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“The Elephant in the Living Room,” Reviewed

“The Elephant in the Living Room,” Reviewed (photo)

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Nothing makes a better documentary subject than crazy. Whether they’re about socialite shut-ins or deranged cult leaders or just some guy who decides to eat nothing but fast food for a month, documentaries are a great home for the insane. Best of all is when a documentary invites us inside the madness to experience it for ourselves, then forces to reconsider whether that perspective is really all that crazy after all. “The Elephant in the Living Room,” about the danger, and also the appeal, of keeping wild animals as pets, is such a documentary.

Generally, I’m of the opinion that anyone who willingly keeps a deadly animal in their home is kind of nuts. And if said animal escapes and kills them, that’s not a tragedy; that’s fodder for The Darwin Awards. But sometimes these animals get loose and harm others, and that is a tragedy, one that’s happening with alarming and increasing frequency in this country. The rise of wildlife television channels and reality shows like “The Crocodile Hunter” have created a huge boom in exotic pet ownership in this country. But many of these owners are inexperienced and unaware of the full extent of their responsibilities when they purchase, say, a live baby cougar. The owners bite off more than they can chew with these pets. Then the pets grow up, and they bite off lots of things and have no trouble chewing them with their giant, razor-sharp fangs.

Michael Webber’s documentary shows that, yes, it can be extremely dangerous and even reckless, for people to own these creatures. But he also takes the time to consider the positive impact they can have on responsible owners’ lives. His prime example is Terry Brumfield, a middle-aged man from Ohio with terrible back problems and severe depression. Brumfield guesses that he hadn’t left his house for a year when he inherited a lion cub from a friend. The cub, named Lambert, helped Brumfield heal physically and spiritually, and as we can plainly see, his bond with this animal is very strong. But now Lambert is fully grown, and he’s prone to escape from his pen and chase after cars on the highway. This sounds like a Marx Brothers routine (“I just saw a cougar on the road!” “Oh a Cougar, those are nice. My brother bought one used. He loved it.”) but it’s serious stuff.

Webber repeatedly visits Brumfield and his growing pride of lions, five in all eventually, while also interviewing and shadowing a local animal activist named Tim Harrison who helps rescue and find homes for neglected and abandoned wildlife. Harrison cares passionately about public safety and the welfare of these animals, but he’s got a sense of humor too, as evidenced by the fact that he likes to wear a “Snakes on a Plane” t-shirt when he’s out on a job. Harrison’s essential point is this: it is easier to own a mountain lion in some states in this country than it is to own a dog. Dogs need licenses; in nine states, exotic pets don’t. And isn’t that kind of crazy?

“The Elephant in the Living Room” goes a bit overboard with the sensationalistic news clips about monkey attacks and snake bites and bear maulings. But Brumfield’s story is deeply affecting. You might be inclined to think that a guy who can barely walk under his own power should not have the right to possess giant, deadly animals. And then you see the way one of those animals lovingly nuzzles his hand, and you think again.

“The Elephant in the Living Room” opens April 1 in Los Angeles and April 8 in New York City.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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