Pick of the Litter (NR)

Documentary 81 min. August 31, 2018
By Alan Scherstuhl
It would be a surprise if Pick of the Litter doesn't win over most viewers. Dana Nachman and Don Hardy's film, charting the fates of a litter of puppies being trained to become guide dogs, opens with teary testimonials from blind men and women whose lives have been saved by their furry companions. A heartbeat later, we're watching Labrador pups, their faces pink and wrinkly, their eyes not quite ready to open up and take in a world that doesn't deserve such good boys and girls.

It's a tough movie to review, in its way. The pups, named Primrose and Poppet and Phil and Potomac and Patriot, get dispatched from the organization Guide Dogs for the Blind to the homes of families dedicated to raising them for the first half of their training. As the filmmakers check in intermittently on the progress of all five sweet, sweet, good, good boys and good girls, yes they are, the critic's mind might start worrying over questions like, "Why don't the filmmakers slow down and show us the day-to-day life of these trainers?"

As the roster of puppies slims, the film becomes more successful at actually showing the rigors of becoming a guide dog. The dogs must master not just curbs and traffic but also what the trainers call "intelligent disobedience" -- when to reject commands from their humans that might, say, send them both into the path of a car. The final tests the dogs face are tense and fascinating, and then you're watching blind adults meet their new guide dogs, By then, you're probably a helpless blubbering pile of tears and good boys and good girls and yes you ares.
Don Hardy Jr., Dana Nachman Dana Nachman IFC Films

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