Director: Lasse Hallström
Starring: Josh Gad, Dennis Quaid, KJ Apa, Bryce Gheisar, Juliet Rylance, Peggy Lipton, and Britt Robertson
A Dog’s Purpose is one of those movies that certain people will avoid actively, and that others (primarily kids) will flock towards. Directed by Lasse Hallström, a prolific film director and prior music video producer of ABBA, this movie explores a dog’s experiences of life as it dies and is reincarnated several times, each with different owners. The film takes us through 5 lives, each narrated by Josh Gad. Through every owner and every life, it was clear that the movie’s greatest strength was its weakness – sentimentality is its selling point, but also what will throw many people off.
Apart from its heavy focus on family friendliness and the prominent role that every version of the dog protagonist held, this film’s contrast was striking as well. In his second life as Bailey, when he leads a playful, reciprocal friendship with his owner Ethan (who is played by Bryce Gheisar and KJ Apa), yellow and green hues dominate. The settings are often colourful and warm, and he is treated well. However, in the following life as a police dog, the shots are filled with blue – the blue of policemen, water, bridges – and the overriding feeling is one of loneliness. Of course, it’s not a particularly strong or edgy loneliness, but I felt that the change in mood was handled well.
This film was also paced nicely, but some of the jokes were very juvenile. Although I felt less important lines weren’t given excessive time, and every scene seemed to contribute to the story. But some of the commentary made by the dog was cheap and unnecessary – do I really need to know that its butt itches?
At other times, characters’ motivations weren’t explained. One of Ethan’s friends tries to burn down his house after he’s made fun of, which seems like a convenient excuse to showcase how loyal dogs are. Ethan also rejects his childhood sweetheart, Hannah (Britt Robertson), after getting injured in this scenario. This didn’t feel natural, but since it was a key point of the story it was allowed. Additionally, actor performances were strong and convincing throughout, so I wasn’t overly concerned about what caused antagonism in the movie.
I wouldn’t recommend this movie to everyone, and it may be more difficult to do so since animal abuse allegations surfaced earlier this year as well. However, those allegations turned out to be overblown. In a similar vein, people might tell you that this movie is all sap and no substance. While I don’t think this movie will go down as a classic animal companion movie (it doesn’t achieve the same highs and lows in a movie such as Marley and Me) it was enjoyable for my sister and I. It doesn’t take a study of the human condition to make a movie. Sometimes a movie’s purpose is to present a simply a gratuitous, simple, but relatable story.
Review by William Huang