BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE (Wayne Wang, 2005)
BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE follows ten-year-old Opal and the stray dog she names after the southern grocery store chain. Opal lives with her preacher father, played by Jeff Daniels. His job demands frequent moves, which means Opal is often friendless in their new homes. She finds a pal in Winn-Dixie. While her father and their landlord insist she can’t keep him, the dog does its best to bring people together, including introducing Opal to lonely folks around town.
BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE isn’t explicitly about religion or God, but how Opal learns about the problems of others and helps them, and, in turn, solves her own issues, brings to mind the spiritual dilemmas and solutions on JOAN OF ARCADIA. In the form of various people God appears to the television show’s teenage protagonist and assigns her tasks to assist others. In leading Opal to those in need, Winn-Dixie serves the same function. The untidy answers and selfless actions in BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE stand out from the family films populated with bratty kids and clueless adults. The film has a warm spirit and finds nice performances in unexpected places. Jeff Daniels is genuine in his portrayal of a pastor still reeling from his wife’s leaving. Dave Matthews, in a rare acting appearance, does good understated work as a man with a shady past. Harland Williams pops in for a couple hilarious scenes as the town’s policeman. Director Wayne Wang wields a soft touch to ease the loneliness in BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE, and because of that the film is worth a look.
(Review first aired on the March 1, 2005 NOW PLAYING)