The concept of an imaginary friend has been a popular one within cinema, with films like Drop Dead Fred, Donnie Darko, Fight Club, Harvey and Cloak and Dagger. Whether used in a fantasy, comedy or horror genre, this concept is a fascinating and entertaining one within film.
The idea for Wilfred – a bong smoking, beer guzzling, angry dog with an identity crisis – came from a late night conversation between Australian writers Adam Zwar and Jason Gann. Zwar told of how he was invited back to the home of a woman, only to find himself in competition with her jealous dog. The writers used this brief encounter and developed it into an improvised scene, before using it as the basis for a short film. This ultimately led to a TV series, spanning two series’ and an American remake.
‘Wilfred’ begins just as it was originally imagined – on meeting the beautiful Sarah (Cindy Waddingham) and her dog Wilfred (Jason Gann) – Adam (Adam Zwar) is initially excited and positive about his potential future with Sarah. However, his excitement is quickly extinguished when he gets to know Wilfred. To everyone else, Wilfred is a normal everyday dog, but Adam sees him as a man dressed in a dog suit. To make things even more awkward, Wilfred displays a typical ‘bad guy’ attitude whereas Adam is your archetypal ‘nice guy’ character.
It is suggested that the dog’s behavioural problems reside from his depression, separation anxiety and his unstable home environment. Wilfred is in some respects a typical ‘bad guy’ character and one whose flaws are glaringly obvious. He is manipulative, selfish, hypocritical, and yet he is full of innocence. For instance, if a child were being manipulative, one would make allowances, because children cannot fully comprehend their own behaviour. Like a child, Wilfred’s innocence affects ones emotional response to his behaviour. From this perspective Wilfred is not a ‘bad guy’. Yet his high sex drive, fondness for weed and the word ‘cunt’ serves to once again further complicate our emotional response to him. On a lighter note, the comedy value of a talking man-dog is priceless, for instance seeing Wilfred talking dirty to his giant Winnie the Pooh teddy bear is nothing short of hilarious.
By the second series, the tension between the two male protagonists has dissolved considerably and the writers have fun with new settings, characters and problems. Adam and Sarah’s impending wedding and lack of money provides ammunition for the plot. Wilfred becomes a canine star and tries to make money through cage fighting, Adam’s attractive ‘hippy’ brother visits, Wilfred visits his dad and Adam meets Sarah’s nudist parents.
The recent American remake of ‘Wilfred’ was marketed as a ‘buddy comedy’, and Hollywood actor Elijah Wood was cast as Adam. But what makes the Australian version so brilliant is the way it so intelligently develops the relationships between the couple and between Adam and Wilfred. The character development is almost documentary-like in its ability to capture human and animal behaviour.
A core part of the comedy is also the ongoing crap Adam takes from people who don’t think he is good enough for Sarah, and yet the audience all squirm with the knowledge that he really is a hero. This is a brutal and often heartbreaking part of the comedy but one that makes ‘Wilfred’ so original and one that the American version cannot hope to master if it places light comedy and attractive main stars over character development and the concept of dark comedy.
Despite the current hype for the American version, I urge you to give the Australian Wilfred a watch instead, there is nothing quite like it.
Words > Kelly O’Neill