A Dog’s Purpose – Film Review by Fran Winston
Directed by: Lasse Hallström
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Britt Robertson, Josh Gad, KJ Apa, Juliet Rylance, John Ortiz, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Peggy Lipton
In cinemas May 5th
For anyone who owns or has owned a pooch this will certainly strike a chord. It tells the tale of a dog named Bailey – and Ellie, Tino and Buddy (and briefly Waffles). If you’re wondering why he has so many names it’s not that he has numerous homes as such (although he does) it’s that he has numerous lives. Each time he dies he is reincarnated into another. The first time is within ten minutes of the movie’s opening which isn’t confusing in the least (that may be sarcasm!) We are taken through his lives (well in one life he’s a she) as he tries to figure out his reason for existing. However one of his owners never leaves his mind or heart – a young boy named Ethan with whom he lives a joyous life as Bailey. After that existence he has other adventures – even working as a police dog in one incarnation. However he eventually finds his way back to a now grown up Ethan (Quaid) who is extremely embittered about how his life has turned out, Bailey (although he’s technically called Buddy in this incarnation) realises that he can help him if he can just figure out how to let him know who he really is.
It’s impossible to write a review of this without mentioning that it hits cinemas swathed in controversy after a video of a dog seemingly being dragged and dipped into water on set was leaked. However, you should know that the American Humane Association reported in February that an independent third-party animal-cruelty expert had concluded that safety measures on the set of the film were in place and the video had been deliberately edited to mislead the public.
Setting that aside, this is shamelessly designed to tug on the heart strings. No matter what breed of dog he is in any incarnation the voice of Buddy (Gad) always remains childlike and inquisitive as if they are trying to keep the image of a puppy in your mind as opposed to a great big grown up dog. It is incredibly sentimental from the off (like I said his first life “ends” within ten minutes of the movie beginning) and it uses every tried and tested trick to move the audience.
What it hasn’t allowed for is the fact that with so many lives, the stories need time to breathe and other than his relationship with Ethan it feels like we are fast forwarded through his other lives. This makes it feel a bit disjointed at times. Bailey runs the gamut of canine existence having both loving and cruel owners, being a working dog and a pampered pooch and they really are trying to cover all their bases in terms of striking a chord but sometimes it feels like they are trying too hard. The main focus is on his relationship with Ethan and these scenes are given far more attention than the others and feel like the most authentic. You could almost skip his other lives and just watch those scenes.
Extremely saccharine, this seems to try too hard to please but it is never offensive and its heart is in the right place. If you like sweet movies that have an abundance of four legged stars this will warm your cockles. If you don’t like dogs this won’t change your mind. And if you don’t have a dog and bring a pre-teen to this you will probably find yourself nightmared to buy one. You have been warned.