A Dog's Purpose
Lasse Hallstrom's A Dog's Purpose is a mixed breed of cute, clever, sad and funny -- capturing what it's like to be a dog through the voice of Josh Gad and the surrounding performances by Britt Robertson, K.J. Apa and Dennis Quaid. The film's multiple stories keeps the concept feeling fresh, but also distant as the film unravels into its predictable, but not awful conclusion.
Lasse Hallstrom‘s A Dog’s Purpose is a fitting January release, hoping to capture the hearts (and tears) of dog-lovers, while also sprinkling in a little humor for good measure. A Dog’s Purpose isn’t an awful film by any means, but it’s also not a great one — getting by on its good intentions and serviceable performances, but struggling to give viewers anything more than dogs running around trying to look cute.
Bailey (Josh Gad) is a dog that loves his owner Ethan (adult — Dennis Quaid, teenager — K.J. Apa) and will do anything to make him smile or laugh or feel loved. But Bailey isn’t just Bailey, in fact Josh Gad provides the voice for several dogs, with the film’s main concept revolving around the idea that all dogs are reincarnated again and again, to help bring joy to the lives of those around them.
It’s a cute concept that works initially in the film’s favor, because it allows director Lasse Hallstrom to capture all aspects of owning a dog, from the playful puppy stages all the way up until the sad ending. Hallstrom does this in a brisk way that keeps the emotions bouncing between laughing and crying.
And I mostly enjoyed this approach, because it keeps A Dog’s Purpose from turning into a complete downer, like Marley & Me. This gives the film a chance at becoming something better, although the multiple stories do also hold the film back from digging any deeper into the various stories that it covers.
This leaves A Dog’s Purpose feeling like tiny bite-sized tastes of an actual movie about a boy and his dog, but the film never quite gets there.
Story-wise, it tries to come full circle during its last stretch of time, but it mostly feels like a snapshot of the same person at different times in their life, without any sort of thematic weight.
Ethan starts off as a kid and grows into a teenager, where the film spends most of its time and then suddenly it jumps between other people until eventually coming back to Ethan once more.
I personally would’ve preferred if the film stuck with Ethan and detailed his struggles, but the film isn’t about Ethan — it’s about the dogs. Which is why it’s slightly jarring to even bother coming back to his story, instead of introducing even more stories
This makes A Dog’s Purpose a kind of limited viewing film that one simply watches to see dog POV and hear just exactly what’s going on in their heads.
It’s cute, it’s occasionally funny, but it’s not great and that’s sort of okay, because A Dog’s Purpose set out to tell you what the purpose of dogs are and it mostly does that.
Sure, it could have done it better or in a way that made it a more meaningful film, but the audience that’s excited for this kind of stuff is probably going to love it and buy it whenever it hits Blu-ray.
And that’s because director Lasse Hallstrom knows how to capture dogs in an honest, approachable and lovable way, while actors like Dennis Quaid, K.J. Apa and Britt Robertson manage to keep the human side of the film balanced and real. They don’t show any sign of boredom and on more than one occasion manage to highlight the importance of an animal during their own time of need.
A Dog’s Purpose is exactly what the trailers sell it to be. It’s a film that’s not going to be burned into your skull for much longer than its running time. It’s the type of film that will make you laugh and possibly cry, but not exactly feel moved completely. If those feelings do surface, then it’s probably because A Dog’s Purpose has no problem connecting you with your own personal memories of past or present animals. It’s a nostalgic reminder that gets a pass in my book, but mostly because it didn’t try to be a complete downer and instead revealed the bright side of life and the importance that one tiny (or large) animal can have on anyone’s life.