The website for Like Dandelion Dust claims the film has won more than 30 awards at various film festivals around the world. A little digging shows that most appear to be audience awards at tiny fests around the country. Too often, such movies are melodramatic, gut-wrenching tales of inspiration or some other such treacly thing, with undertones of religiosity. It’s almost a genre unto itself—and Like Dandelion Dust definitely fills the requirements.
Now, there’s obviously an audience for this kind of movie (or at least a built-in one fervent enough to round up festival votes), but for me, this kind of stacked-deck, tear-jerking drama just doesn’t make for interesting or engaging filmmaking. It smacks of histrionics and cheats in its simple aims of getting a heartfelt reaction from its audience.
It certainly doesn’t help that there’s no style to be found in Like Dandelion Dust. The movie uses the handheld technique that makes every scene look like it was shot on a waterbed. And there are tons of problems with continuity and shot breakdown. The story provides a fine starting place, but quickly devolves into sputtering, teary-eyed drama. Barry Pepper plays Rip, an alcoholic with an anger problem who has just been released from prison for beating his wife Wendy (Mira Sorvino). Rip quickly finds out that Wendy was pregnant when he went to jail, but that she gave their child Joey (newcomer Maxwell Perry Cotton) up for adoption. Rip, ready to start his life anew, gets the courts involved, and the couple is given their child back.
The problem with this, however, is that Joey was adopted by über-rich Jack (Cole Hauser), who has no intention of giving up his son. The movie becomes a battle between the parties, as Rip struggles with his new life and his constant issues with booze and anger, while Jack tries to buy and influence his way out of his problems.
Besides all the fist-pounding melodrama, the film’s central problem is how unlikable everyone is. The most sympathetic character is the wife-abusing lush. Cole Hauser as Jack—supposedly the “good guy”—doesn’t have the charisma for the role. Instead, he just comes across as spoiled. Added to that, Wendy is handled as a pathetic, spineless female. The film has her continually taking back her consistently abusive husband.
There was some room within the story and its themes to explore moral ambiguity (such as in Ben Affleck’s infinitely better Gone Baby Gone (2007)), but the film appears to be afraid to do so. By the end of the movie, everything has been wrapped up nice and tidy. The movie does address the class issues going on, but only with a short couple of lines, and not before spending an hour-and-a-half making a mockery out of it. The dubious message the film seems to convey by its conclusion is that you can be an insufferable, selfish human being as long as you’re not poor, don’t have an alcohol problem and are right with God. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, including domestic violence and alcohol abuse.