Tribeca Film Festival Review: ‘Dog Years’ Celebrates Burt Reynolds’ Storied Career Through Fiction
It is a sobering fact that nobody lives forever — but our beloved movie stars are immortal — their images etched in celluloid forever. Cut to Burt Reynolds who plays Vic Edwards — an aging movie star in Dog Years. The character is faced with the stark reality that his glory days are well behind him. There is a total disconnect between the actor in his heyday who bragged that he bedded most of Hollywood’s hottest actresses to being totally invisible to a beautiful woman’s glance while shopping at the supermarket for prune juice.
The film — which screened at 2017 Tribeca Film Festival — could not have been made without Reynolds who pokes fun at his own vibrant and youthful celebrity, while checking his once healthy ego at the door to unabashedly reveal that he is 81 years old. He even walks with a cane and appears fragile at times, which could also be applied to the character. In a melancholy moment, writer and director Adam Rifkin positions the camera so tight on Reynolds that we can see the cracks and crevices in his still handsome, but weathered face.
Dog Years is not a pity party, as it quickly turns to a comedic scenario where Edwards is invited to accept the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award at ‘The International Nashville Film Festival.’ Of course he’s never heard of it. but the invitation boasts that honorees before him included other notable stars such as Clint Eastwood and Jack Nicholson. He mulls it over with his buddy Sonny — a mussy gray haired Chevy Chase — who gets an inside wink to his own sporadic career. When Edwards asks for advice, his character says, “don’t go by me. I haven’t made the best choices.”
Edwards decides to go for it — perhaps to reclaim some of his accolades and star treatment. The problem is that this festival is nothing near Cannes or Tribeca for that matter. For starters, his personal assistant, the festival founder’s sister Lil (played by Ariel Winter), picks him up in her vintage car instead of a limo. Winter is almost unrecognizable. Her Modern Family bookworm image is shattered forever as a goth teen with magenta hair, a bull nose ring and tattoo sleeves sporting a midriff top and even tinier short shorts.
Edwards’ accommodations for the festival include a seedy motel. The festival itself is held at a local pub in the middle of town. The ‘red carpet’ lines the dirty bar floor and the ‘step and repeat’ backdrop are hand-written papers that say the festival’s name held by clips on a string. His adoring fans are there to screen his body of work on a fold-down projector screen which are actually clips from Reynolds’ earlier films.
There are many biographical facts from Reynolds’ own beginnings that are borrowed for the film, such as being a two bit stuntman who became the toast of the town and having his former football dreams end because of an injury. Edwards recalls these events while talking about his younger years. Rifkin cleverly places Edwards in old movie scenes with characters that Reynolds portrayed in his storied career, where he has conversations with them about the meaning of his life. He’s riding shotgun with Reynolds as Bandit in Smokey & The Bandit and sitting in the canoe with Reynolds as Lewis in Deliverance as he spears a fish. He says to his younger self, ‘Damn you’re good lookin’!’
Rather than wallow in this depressing retrospective of his movie life, Edwards hijacks Lil for a road trip down memory lane to his hometown of Tennessee, where they bond sweetly in their mutual failures.
In another nod to Burt Reynolds’ playful past, Lil Googles Edwards and comes across the famous 1972 Cosmopolitan centerfold of him posing nearly naked on a bearskin rug.
Dog Years, in its tongue-in-cheek approach to facing Act III, is also a poignant tribute to Burt Reynolds, the living legend. As Burt Reynolds once told Reuters in 2015 near his 80th birthday, “The best is yet to come.”
Edwards sums it up in the film, “It’s a lifetime so far achievement award.”