Review: ‘Underdog’

Tommy Hyde’s Directorial Debut Is a Love Letter To Rural Farmers And Dogs

There’s a reason that collectively we have labeled dogs as “Man’s Best Friend.” As a dog owner, I love my little critter. Dogs are cute, fun, loyal, and more importantly, they give us almost unconditional love which in turn we give back to them. In his directorial debut, Tommy Hyde takes a look at the relationship with a rural dairy farmer, his challenges in life, and his passion for his puppies. While Underdog is a documentary about more than puppies, it helps illustrate just how important these critters, and your personal passions are and how they can help save you and bring you peace.

Doug Butler is a dairy farmer in rural Vermont, and in an age of globalism, factory farming, inflation, etc, he’s having challenges keeping his family farm afloat. It’s been in his family for generations, but times are tough. He has to fight day to day to figure out how to pay the interest on his loans, and keep his ever-breaking equipment afloat. While his “cash cow” (being a dairy farm) are cows, Dough has a passion for his dogs. Owning more than 22 dogs he knows each one by name, Doug’s main passion is in “dog mushing” (I had to Google the term) as it not only gives him companionship, it gives him hope and lets him feel full of life.

Dog mushing is basically “dog sledding,” and Doug loves every minute of doing it. We first see him riding on a sled with a pack of his dogs and he screams out “shit man, I’m getting an erection!” Oh yeah, Doug has a potty mouth! Doug has been chasing the goal of going to Alaska to participate in a dog mushing tournament. He’s been wanting to do this for more than 30 years and Underdog showcases him fulfilling his lifelong dream.

At the same time, Underdog explores Doug’s headaches of possibly losing his business. His loans jump from $400K to $600K due to interest rates increasing, his cows are getting sick and dying, Vermont winters are unforgiving, and many other obstacles come his way. Doug explains that some of his fellow farmers have gone through depression, lost their farms, and even committed suicide. Underdog does a great job displaying how hard life can be for the “little guy” and small-town American when corporations are stacking the deck against them. As we see Doug meeting with a bankruptcy lawyer, it’s heartbreaking as he has to not only sell his assets, but his cows, and he even has to consider parting ways with his dogs, and he even said they “keep him sane.”

As Doug takes his trek across the country to go to the Dig Mushing competition in Alaska, you are reminded of just how vast and beautiful America is, especially the landmarks and roadways. Doug even shed a few tears when he finally crossed the border into Alaska. When we see him in his element at the competition, you can’t help but feel happy for him. Underdog lives and dies with Doug as you follow every facet of his life and his pursuit of his passions while dealing with financial turmoil. He also has such a larger-than-life personality (and a very potty mouth), which helps you fall in love with him.

Underdog (which is such an aptly named title for the documentary) also is filmed technically well by director Tommy Hyde. The picturesque landscape of rural America is breathtakingly beautifully shot. Hyde also doesn’t have much music throughout the film, and instead allows the audience to be enveloped with Doug, his family, and his dogs with as few distractions as possible. The documentary is an absolute gem and shows a facet of life that not too many people are familiar with. It can help motivate you to pursue your dreams, no matter what challenges you may face in your day-to-day life because you never know if your passions will help save you in ways you didn’t even realize.

Underdog is currently available on VOD and DVD.