Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Deborah Kampmeier|
Robin Wright Penn
|Written by||Deborah Kampmeier|
|Edited by||Sabine Hoffmann|
Empire Film Group
Hounddog is a 2007 American coming-of-age drama film written, directed, and produced by Deborah Kampmeier and starring Dakota Fanning, Isabelle Fuhrman, Robin Wright Penn, and Piper Laurie, among others. It is also Isabelle Fuhrman's debut film. Penn also serves as an executive producer. The film was produced by Raye Dowell, Jen Gatien, and Terry Leonard. It premiered in competition at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, and was given a limited release in 11 North American theaters on September 19, 2008.
Shot near Wilmington, North Carolina and taking place in the early 1960s in rural Alabama, the film stars Fanning as Lewellen, "a troubled 12-year-old girl who finds solace from an abusive life through music of Elvis Presley."
The film was panned by critics, due in part to a controversial scene in which Fanning's character is raped. The film was also a box office failure, grossing only $131,961, against an estimated $3.75 million production budget.
Lewellen lives with her stern, religious grandmother, Grannie, who has taken it upon herself to raise the girl, as neither of Lewellen's parents can provide her a stable home. Her father, Lou, loves her and tries to please her, giving her gifts such as Elvis Presley recordings. Although he battles with alcoholism, he tries his best to give Lewellen a stable home. He even tries to provide a motherly figure in Lewellen's life by dating a mysterious girlfriend, Ellen, who promised one night to rescue Lewellen from life in the rural South should the relationship falter. We later learn that Ellen is in fact Lewellen's aunt, her mother's sister.
Lewellen is able to maintain her innocence by finding consolation in playing with her best friend Buddy, idling away her last pre-teen summer with typical outdoor rural pastimes such as swimming in the pond and exploring the woods, meeting a new friend, Grasshopper, while spending the summer with her grandparents. Lewellen is enchanted by her idol, Elvis Presley, who is making a homecoming tour in the South. Her town is one of the venue stops. Lewellen finds that singing Elvis' music is a way to channel her trauma into something constructive and creative. Charles (Afemo Omilami) acts as a mentor, imparting wisdom of his snake handler religion to explain this emotional channelling to her — in other words, how to create something positive out of something venomous and deadly.
Lewellen is challenged by many problems besides living in a "broken home". Ellen leaves one day and breaks Lewellen's heart, burdening her with the responsibility to be a "mother" despite not having one herself. Her father suffers a terrible accident, and is handicapped to the point of infantile retardation, but the thought of Elvis coming to town gives her the resolve to carry on despite this newest of many traumatic circumstances. Buddy tells Lewellen that Wooden's Boy has an Elvis ticket and is willing to give it to her if she does her Elvis dance for him naked. When she finds out the deal, she questions doing such an act for a moment. She then agrees to do so, Wooden's Boy then unzips his trousers, she asks for her ticket, but Wooden's Boy then rapes her.
The sexual assault causes life-threatening emotional trauma, that manifests as an illness. Her loved ones, Charles and Grannie, are distressed by her sudden decline in health. In fits of feverish illness, she hallucinates she is being attacked by venomous snakes, and she also vomits after church. Enraged by hearing the cause of Lewellen's descent into figurative hell, Charles overhears Buddy talking to Wooden's Boy about what he had done to her, he then resolves to rescue his young friend from the depths of despair and tries to help her reclaim her stolen paralyzed voice by encouraging her to sing "Hound Dog". He nurses her back to health. Ellen soon returns to the town to keep her promise to Lewellen. Lewellen bids farewell to her father and departs for a better life with her new mother.
- Dakota Fanning as Lewellen
- Isabelle Fuhrman as Gwendolyn "Grasshopper"
- Piper Laurie as Grannie
- Jill Scott as Big Mama Thornton
- David Morse as Lou
- Robin Wright Penn as Ellen
- Christoph Sanders as Wooden's Boy
- Cody Hanford as Buddy
- Afemo Omilami as Charles
- Ryan Pelton as Elvis Presley
- Sean A. Wallace as Boy
The film garnered a great deal of attention, and generated intense controversy, owing to the use of such a young actress in a role that included a rape scene. Though the scene only showed Fanning's face and her character's reaction to the trauma of the act, it became known as the "Dakota Fanning rape movie" at the Sundance Film Festival. Fanning expressed ire towards the attacks against her family, most of which she said were directed toward her mother.
Because of the outcry over Hounddog, North Carolina State Senator and minority leader Phil Berger called for all future films made in North Carolina to have their scripts approved in advance if they are to get the normal production subsidy from the state. Berger says that he has not seen the film but is acting in response to what he has read about it.
Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 15% based on reviews from 54 critics, with the website's consensus stating: "Despite a noble effort from Dakota Fanning, Hounddog is overwrought, cliche-ridden and downright exploitative."
In its opening weekend of September 19–21, 2008, the film took in $13,744 in 11 theaters. It grossed $131,961 in its entire run.
- "Hounddog". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved October 10, 2008.
- "The Motion Picture Group, Inc. co-finances Hound Dog". The Motion Picture Group. September 12, 2006.
- "Hounddog". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved November 4, 2013..
- Breznican, Anthony (January 23, 2007). "Fanning speaks up on rape scene". USA Today.
- "Fanning Controversy". Time. January 24, 2007.
- Thomson, Katherine (October 15, 2008). "Dakota Fanning's "Hounddog," The Rape Movie, Savaged On Way To Release". The Huffington Post.
- Breznican, Anthony. "Fanning speaks up on rape scene", USA Today, January 23, 2007.
- "Republican: Scripts need reviewing – Movie prompts lawmaker's film incentive idea". The Star-News. January 26, 2007.
- Ebert, Roger (September 18, 2008). "Hounddog". Chicago Sun-Times.