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Desson Howe - Weekend section, "Sunsplashed vitality."

Rita Kempley - Style section,
"You'll go home purring and wagging your tail."


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'The Truth About Cats & Dogs'

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A female spin on "Cyrano de Bergerac," the story involves two obviously destined lovers kept apart by a set of frustrating factors. California call-in radio host Abby Barnes, who gives advice to concerned pet owners, gets a call from English-accented Brian, a photographer who's face to face with a menacing boxer dog in roller skates.

Abby talks Brian through the trauma and even persuades him to adopt the dog. A grateful Brian, who has fallen in love with that radio voice, begs to meet her. But Abby has a low self-esteem, so she sends beautiful, ditsy neighbor Noelle to the rendezvous instead. -- Desson Howe Rated PG-13


Director: Michael Lehmann
Cast: Uma Thurman; Janeane Garofalo; Ben Chaplin; James McCaffrey
Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Filmography: Uma Thurman; Janeane Garofalo








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A Comedic 'Cats' Meow

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 26, 1996

"The Truth About Cats & Dogs," a comic triangle that includes one smart, jokey DJ, a goofy, practically anorexic model and a precious hunk of a Brit, is a pleasant, unassuming exercise in geometry.

The movie, in which two obviously destined lovers are kept apart by a set of frustrating factors, is an unabashed, female spin on "Cyrano de Bergerac." But it has its own sunsplashed vitality, thanks to spirited writing by Audrey Wells and winning performances from all three principals.

Janeane Garofalo, who used to be a "Saturday Night Live" trouper, is especially amusing with her demure, the-B.S.- stops-here witticisms as California call-in radio host Abby Barnes, she gives advice to concerned pet owners, no matter how weird their concerns. When we first meet her, for instance, she's responding to a caller whose lengthy licking session with his cat has left him with a skin rash.

"You can love your pets," says Abby sweetly. "Just don't . . . looooove your pets. Repeat after me: Us, them. Us, them."

The triangulations get going when Garofalo gets a call from English-accented Brian (Ben Chaplin), a photographer who's face to face with a menacing boxer dog in roller skates.

Abby talks Brian through the trauma (the procedure involves him getting down on all-fours and caressing the animal's ears) and even persuades him to adopt the dog. A grateful Brian, who has fallen in love with that radio voice, begs to meet her. But with the kind of low self-esteem that leads to movies like this, Abby sends beautiful, ditsy neighbor Noelle (Uma Thurman) to the rendezvous instead.

Brian can't understand why this tall, gorgeous blonde doesn't have the smarts of the voice he fell for. For the rest of the movie, Noelle and Abby (who pretends to be Noelle's buddy, "Donna") attempt to keep the "Cyrano" illusion going. By telephone, Abby talks hot, heavy and poetic with Brian while in daylight meetings Noelle supplies the visuals.

It takes annoyingly long for Brian to get the real picture-and for terminally mum Abby to spill the beans. ("Disappointment doesn't kill," hisses Noelle, urging her friend to tell Brian.) But while we endure this delaying of the inevitable, there is much to enjoy. At one point, Noelle-attempting to upgrade Abby's beauty management-takes her to a department store makeup counter.

"What's your skin regime?" asks the snooty sales assistant.

"The regime from which the radicals are trying to get free?" responds Abby.

Chaplin, who makes his American debut (he was a footman in "The Remains of the Day"), is an endearing, slow-on-the- uptake Mr. Right. And as Noelle, Thurman shows what an underrated comedian she is. Unenlightened about the psychological abuse heaped on her by bullying boyfriend Roy (James McCaffrey), she thumbs through one of those Is-your-man-a-loser? articles. Her eyes widen. A little later, Abby finds Noelle wallowing in tears. She asks her friend what's wrong.

"It turns out Roy is a loser," says Noelle, with the earth- shaking gravity of Einstein discovering the principles of energy and motion.

The Truth About Cats & Dogs (PG-13) - Contains sexual situations and mild profanity.

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A Warm and Fuzzy Romance

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 26, 1996

"The Truth About Cats & Dogs," a darling romantic comedy inspired by "Cyrano de Bergerac," teaches that beauty is skin deep. But it also sings the praises of pore-minimizing makeup. You see, this time around Cyrano is a woman (Janeane Garofalo) and a pretty one, too. Instead of having a sausage of a schnozzola, she suffers from a condition well nigh universal among women: Low Self-Esteem.

Garofalo, the acerbic talent booker on HBO's "The Larry Sanders Show," exposes a softer side as Abby, a radio veterinarian whose warmth and common sense endear her to her listeners. The radio is a perfect showcase for the petite brunette, who thinks of herself as a toad because she's not a willowy blonde like her neighbor Noelle (Uma Thurman).

Men routinely allow doors to slam in the unassuming Abby's face, but Noelle saunters by and guys literally fall for her. "You burp, and guys think it's adorable. You puke, and guys line up to hold your hair back," grouses a resentful Abby, who fervently believes that leggy blondes do have more fun. So that's how she describes herself when Brian, a beguiled listener, asks her out.

After making sure he's not a serial killer, she eagerly agrees to meet Brian after work, but stands him up. When he comes to the radio station the next day to find her, Noelle just happens to be sitting in Abby's office. Of course, once Brian mistakes Noelle for the woman he loves, all the romantic banana peels are in place.

Director Michael Lehmann, who debuted with "Heathers" and bombed with "Hudson Hawk," sets a breezy pace that's perfect for this sweet but miscast charade. Even in baggy clothes and a Kathy Bates bob, Garofalo is as cute as a cocker spaniel puppy. And her disarming manner only makes her the more irresistible.

Written by former deejay Audrey Wells, the observant and funny script includes some wonderful scenes for the leading ladies. In fact, it explores the dynamics of female friendship rather better than it does the girl-boy love story. The yarn is implausible-it asks us to believe that Brian is not only blind to the heroine's charms, but deaf to them as well when he fails to notice that Thurman's airheaded Abby sounds nothing like the radio pet doctor he adores. But why quibble? You'll still go home purring and wagging your tail.

The Truth About Cats & Dogs is rated PG-13 for a phone sex scene.

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