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To Lie For

Janeane Garofalo makes a little deception go a very long (and very funny) way

Uma Thurman doesn't always have the lightest of touches when it comes to playing comedy. In Cats and Dogs, however, she gets it all right by not trying so hard. Her Noelle is the sort of well-meaning ninny who says the first thing that pops into her head, especially when she wants to cheer up a downcast friend. Eager to make Abby feel good about herself, she blurts out, "I'd fuck you." Abby, who knows exactly what Noelle means and deeply appreciates the gesture, replies, "Thank you, honey. I know you would."

Here and elsewhere in Cats and Dogs, Janeane Garofalo adds the perfect touch of deadpan drollery to her dry-roasted bons mots. Until now, this talented young actress has been known primarily as a sort of modern-day Eve Arden, wisecracking her way through supporting roles in Reality Bites and Bye, Bye Love. As Abby Barnes, however, she gets the chance to make the leap to lead player, and she makes the most of it.

Garofalo can make crankiness seem comical better than anyone this side of David Letterman. (Noelle: "What's wrong?" Abby: "Nothing that a rooftop and an AK-47 can't take care of!") But she's just as effective, and even more ingratiating, when Abby turns the full force of her saber-toothed sarcasm on herself. Her self-deprecation is the movie's funniest running gag. At the same time, though, it also serves as a trenchant comment on the ways that women, much like men, are brainwashed into accepting conventional notions about what constitutes true beauty.

Notions, it should be noted, that have been established and sustained by -- what else? -- the movies.

The Truth About Cats and Dogs.
Directed by Michael Lehmann.
Rated PG-13.
97 minutes.

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