Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Cast: Josh Gad, Dennis Quaid, KJ Apa, Britt Robertson, John Ortiz, Juliet Rylance, Peggy Lipton
Plot: A dog (Gad) finds himself with the power to jump body with every lifetime, leading him to question his existence and place in the world.
Lasse Hallstrom clearly didn’t hear the age-old adage of never work with children or animals. A Dog’s Purpose is crammed with the canine critters, a dog-lover’s dream movie. Right from the opening shot of puppies in a litter to the bountiful ensemble of dogs of all shapes and sizes, A Dog’s Purpose tries to find any excuse to get another puppy on camera. It must have been a producer’s nightmare of a film set, waiting for the starring dogs to get that ideal combination of tricks that can lead to unlocking the emotion in the film. Sure, there are beats where you feel the writers cheated and wrote the gag in the narration after the shot had been filmed to create a more naturally funny scene, but that can be easily forgiven when you look at the task ahead of the film-making team here as a whole. One fixed shot where Bailey, the lead dog, chases a cat around a living room must have been the logistical challenge of the decade. But against all odds, Hallstrom manages to get not just one, but every, performance coaxed out of the animal actors, to create a beautifully crafted movie, without the awkward moment where an animal actor just refuses to cooperate with that one shot.
But I have never liked to base my opinion of a film on a gimmick. The most important thing is whether the film works as a finished product, despite the challenges the production team faced. My doubts were there. A Dog’s Purpose feels too constrained by cheap tricks, a family film about how awesome dogs are, crammed with adorable puppies for the animal lovers, as well as making good use of the fact that most cinema-goers will struggle to shed a tear over the supporting cast in a Marvel movie but will break into a blubbering mess at the sight of a dog being slightly inconvenienced (myself included). The trailer didn’t help matters, pretty much condensing the whole film into a two minute clip and robbing the audience of any surprises later on in the film. Thankfully, the trailer appears to be this film’s one mistake. The film might be a shameless crowd pleaser, using dogs as an easy way into the audience’s hearts, but we could argue that John Wick did the same thing a few years previous. What A Dog’s Purpose does do is fit a touching moral to its narrative. In Marley and Me, this film’s easiest comparison, Marley lived alongside the humans of the story, a passive supporting star but one that was highlighted as essential. A Dog’s Purpose switches these roles, so the humans are far more passive in Bailey’s life. As a result, we get the lives of humans as seen from the viewpoint of dogs. A large part of Hallstrom’s story seems to be about how complicated we make our own existence. As Bailey’s owner, Ethan, struggles to ask out a girl or considers dumping her to make life easier for the pair of them, through the eyes of a dog this all seems so confusing. If you love the girl, be with her! If you are feeling miserable, make more time for fun! Do what makes you happy! The rest of humanity just confuses Bailey. Throughout the course of the film, we see Bailey face all aspects of life from marriage, family life, domestic violence, animal abuse, crime… perhaps A Dog’s Purpose has more in common with Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin than anything else. But as each horror or emotional travesty hits Bailey, the touching thing is that he never strays from his original personality. Bailey is never anything else but the same loyal, affectionate, life-loving puppy that he came into this world being. And for that, 2017’s biggest cinematic role model could very well go to a dog.
Final Verdict: A shameless family friendly crowd-pleaser, but by god, it works. You will laugh, cry and be moved.