A Dog’s Purpose

Featuring The Voice Of: Josh Gad
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Peggy Lipton, AJ Apa, Britt Robertson, Luke Kirby, Logan Miller, John Ortiz
Directed By: Lasse Hallstrom

Plot: A dog dies multiple times in an emotionally manipulative film.

What Works: Just, fuck you, sir. You win. I cried, OK? Dammit, I like dogs, and just like Marley and Me, watching this dog die over and over just wrecked me. I avoided this film in theatres because I didn’t want to just sit in an audience and cry, and I figured I’d rather sit at home and do it, and I cried. Every. Time. The. Dog. Died. Except the first time, because it was so sudden that I didn’t have time to really process what had happened. This is one of those extremely manipulative films like Marley and Me that knows what it’s got. It’s got cute dogs, and heartwarming themes, but lots of dogs dying. The fact that I was as connected to the story, the characters, and the dog, has a lot to do with Lasse Hallstrom, who is an exceptional director, especially when it comes to knowing how to manipulate your emotions (Hachi). I also enjoyed seeing the passage of time, like how when the dog is Bailey, we hear about the Russians, and everything looks of the period. And each incarnation of Bailey lives long enough so that we end up in present day, when he’s reunited with Ethan (Quaid). I thought that was pretty cool. The cast does good work here, and the film is well shot. I could tell that the much discussed “water sequence” was carefully filmed, and very likely the dog was never in any real danger. At one point, the dog looked CGI even.

What Doesn’t Work: I’m sorry, but I just have to take off a point for BEING so damn emotionally manipulative. There’s a certain heavyhandedness in this film, like it’s forcing you to cry, instead of a carefully crafted cry because you’re so invested in the characters. An example of a truly rewarding cry, for me, would be like at the end of Up, when he puts the grape soda cap on. It’s an emotionally earned cry, carefully crafted through set up and payoff, not just because dogs are cute, and we don’t like seeing them die. I don’t feel like every death in this film is as earned as it should have been, but instead it is thrust upon us with the kind of exuberant confidence that Hallstrom has in knowing that it’s going to work, and the audience will get emotional anyway.

Final Word: Like I said, you know this film is going to yank at your heartstrings. I’d say, watch at your own risk. I knew it would make me cry, and it did. So if you think this movie will make you cry, it will. Overall, besides the heavy emotions, I thought it was a pretty good film with some good performances, interesting direction, and something to say. This film offers a cute perspective on how dogs operate, and I appreciate that.

Final Grade: B+

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