What did we do to deserve dogs? Its official, dogs are in, cats are out. Twitter accounts dedicated to their innocent antics, with more than half a million members of a Facebook page dedicated to spotting dogs “in the wild” spawning a myriad of terms to accompany: “doggo” “bork” “puppers" and of course my personal favourite “floof”.
If you think this is all bloody gibberish and a little bit mawkish, you should probably stay away from A Dog’s Purpose, based on the best-selling novel by W Bruce Cameron, it follows the story of a dog's search to the question “Why are we here?”. The movie promises it’s more than “just another charming dog story”. How so? The dog doesn’t die? Well, not quite; rather, he meets his demise and is killed off within the first five minutes, but he is reborn anew as a new puppy, and must ponder this ultimate question through multiple canine lives.
If A Dog’s Purpose gets one thing right, it’s capturing the sheer joy of owning a dog. After being reborn once, the “main” dog life the film centres around is a golden retriever named Bailey, whose owner is eight-year-old Ethan (Bryce Gheisar). This part of the film is set in the 1960s, and the relationship between the two that spans 10 years will make anyone who was lucky enough to grow up with a dog bask in the warm memories, and those who didn’t envy an experience they never had. Bailey's insight and commentary about human relationships and mannerisms is charming, and the movie is strongest when Bailey is goofing off, causing trouble and generally being less than a “good boy”.
However, while the film highs are fuelled mostly by nostalgia and relating to our own experiences as owners, it succeeds less elsewhere on merit alone. Josh Gad, for the most part, delivers a solid performance as the "voice" of the peppy protagonist, but less can be said for the human counterparts, who are one-dimensional cliches that are merely tools to lumber the story along, spanning its sickly sweet stereotypical duplicitous landscapes, representing the past 50 years, harkening back to the "good-old-days", that again, serve their purpose, but are ultimately lazy. Likewise, it becomes tiresome to connect and care about new characters and new dogs, with the reincarnation gimmick outstaying its welcome.
The film does have some genuine laugh-out-loud moments, mixing simple toilet jokes with black comedy pieces that could be considered questionable in a film with a family audience in mind. This is one of it’s most glaring issues, A Dog's Purpose constantly changes its tone to deliver its narrative, using underhanded emotional manipulation in place of any development of characters or story, while often it exploits its audience successfully, its clumsy delivery and certain direction decisions are practically shameless, particularly with one scene depicting an excessive amount of blood, with upsetting scenes for the wrong reasons, especially for young children to dictate how they should feel.
As with so many movies about man's best friend, its gushing sentimentality becomes overbearing at times and the plot when laid out, is practically threadbare, but like the dogs it champions, no matter how frustrating he can be, his charm is enough to eventually win you over. It may irritate for sure from time to time, but its innocent’s premise is impossible to stay mad at, with its unconditional warmth and love, even if it’s delivered in a wet sloppy kiss. Ultimately, any dog lover owes it to themselves to see this canine treat.