Lawn Dogs

on May 15, 1998 by Christine James
   Devon (Mischa Barton) is a 10-year-old girl living in a posh suburban gated community called Camelot Gardens. Devon's morally deficient social-climbing parents ("Leave It to Beaver's" Christopher McDonald and "Apollo 13's" Kathleen Quinlan) hope she'll befriend the daughters of wealthy district leaders; instead, she strikes up an unlikely camaraderie with Trent ("Box of Moonlight's" Sam Rockwell), the 21-year-old man who mows Camelot's lawns. Trent, who lives in a trailer in the forest and has learned not to presume to mix with the upper class, tries to shoo Devon away, knowing that a grown man keeping company with a young girl can only result in trouble. But Devon, intrigued by and infatuated with Trent, keeps coming back. The two misfits soon bond--to the horror of Devon's parents and the self-righteous denizens of Camelot.
   The imaginative Devon concocts tales of a sinister witch who lives in the woods; her stories indicate that she feels good will ultimately overcome evil. However, it's hard to know what that means here. Devon's behavior is more than warrantedly rebellious--it's frequently disturbing. The quandary is that the audience wants Devon to escape the shallow mores to which her parents plan to condemn her, but we can't condone some of the extremes to which she goes.
   Rockwell is intense and multi-faceted as Trent, while 10-year-old Barton is remarkably compelling and assured as Devon. The platonic relationship the two characters develop is inspiring in many ways, but the film itself is too harsh and bleak. The ending is very striking visually, creatively and philosophically, but it leaves one not knowing what will--or ought to--come next for the protagonists.    Starring Mischa Barton, Sam Rockwell, Christopher McDonald and Kathleen Quinlan. Directed by John Duigan. Written by Naomi Wallace. Produced by Duncan Kenworthy. A Strand release. Drama. Unrated. Running time: 101 min.
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