Well Groomed-A Journey Through the Strange and Wonderful World of Creative Dog Grooming

Review by Jason Godbey, Creative Director, Behind the Rabbit Productions

Well Groomed is a feature documentary that takes us on a surreal journey into the world of competitive creative dog grooming, a styling technique used by groomers involving hair dyes and shearing the dog’s fur into creative shapes. We follow four creative groomers in their quest to win the grand prize at America’s biggest competition in Hershey, Pennsylvania, “the show you want to win.”

Our story begins in South Carolina with Adriane Pope, an upper middle class woman who has spent 11 years of her life grooming her standard poodle, Encore, in competitions. She has a husband and family and a menagerie of animals which includes more dogs, horses, ducks, and goats. She has never placed in Hershey, but is determined to take her game to the next level this year. 

We travel across the country to Dana Point, California. Cat Opson owns a dog grooming business and is serious about her creative grooming. She travels across the country to compete and spent more than $25,000 on this endeavor. 

The newcomer to the world of creative grooming is Nicole Beckman from Ithaca, New York. She recently took over the grooming shop where she works, and is venturing into a whole new world to see if she can compete with the country’s top groomers. 

The groomer to beat is Angela Kumpe, a true innovator in the world of creative dog grooming. She has won more competitions than the other featured groomers and even developed coloring and grooming techniques that revolutionized the art of creative grooming. 

We see all of these women in their own environments. We are in their homes, in their cars, in their businesses and churches. We spend time with them as they prepare their dogs for the stage. We see loving slow motion montages of dogs being trimmed and washed. You can practically smell the wet dog hair and dye, the scent of which must fill their houses and shops so often, they’ve ceased to notice. 

Director Rebecca Stern portrays her subjects honestly and seemingly without prejudice. The camera doesn’t judge them. She uses wide angle shots for her interviews to show you the people in their environments. When we first meet Adriane Pope, she’s sitting on her living room couch with a multicolored poodle next to her. Angela Kumpe is pictured with a deer’s head mounted on the wall above her. Each portrait gives us insight into the person’s character, letting us know who they are. This isn’t a mockumentary. This isn’t Best in Show. These are real people who take this work seriously. 

As each woman works her magic on their dog, we can see the concentration and intensity in their eyes. This is their art, their creative outlet, and they really want to win. When we see Adriane Pope trimming and clipping and dying, there’s a look of determination on her face that would rival that of an Olympic hopeful. The surreal feeling comes from the realization of seeing how serious these women are all the while thinking “wait, this is just a dog show right?” 

The grand prize at Hershey is only $2,500, and in the end the prize money they hope to win can never repay the countless hours and money and energy spent to make a dog look like an Alice In Wonderland inspired mural. It is only the feeling of satisfaction and achievement of winning the trophy for their best creative work that makes the blood, sweat and tears worth it. If you love dogs, dog shows or you’re just curious about the world of creative dog grooming, I highly recommend this film. 

A 60 minute version of Well Groomed premiered on HBO in December of 2020. This new 88 minute version of the film is now available on DVD and all major VOD platforms.

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