This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
`Dogfight" isn't a love story so much as a story about how a young woman helps a confused teenage boy to discover his own better nature. The fact that his discoveries take place on the night before he ships out to fight the war in Vietnam only makes the story more poignant.
The film takes place in San Francisco, in 1963, a few weeks before the Kennedy assassination. River Phoenix plays Birdlace, a young Marine who has been given a final night’s shore liberty with his friends from boot camp. They decide to hold a "dogfight," a particularly cruel contest in which they pool their money, rent a bar, and have a competition to see who can find the ugliest date. The Marine with the best "dog" wins the cash.
Phoenix finally settles on Rose (Lili Taylor) in desperation. She isn't very ugly (and indeed, in the tradition of such characters, she grows more lovely as the night wears on), but she’s the best he can do. Rose is a vulnerable, poetic young girl who listens to Joan Baez records and writes poetry and has a sensitive nature. She agrees to go out with Birdlace mostly because she feels sorry for him.
Then she finds out about the dogfight, and in a scene of enormous power she attacks the young man - not for what he has done to her, but for what they have all done to their other victims. Then she walks out. But he follows her home, apologizes awkwardly, and they begin a conversation that leads to an evening on the town. They even have dinner in a nice restaurant, snubbing the headwaiter who tries to snub them.