A DOG’S PURPOSE (USA/PG/100mins)
Directed by Lasse Hallström. Starring Dennis Quaid, Josh Gad, Peggy Lipton, Juliet Rylance, Britt Robertson
THE PLOT: Over the course of many lives, and many decades, a dog – voiced by Josh Gad – struggles to understand what his purpose is in life.
THE VERDICT: Shrouded in controversy since a TMZ video surfaced of a dog being treated cruelly on set – which has since been refuted as being fake and deliberately edited to mislead the public – ‘A Dog’s Purpose’ is a strange sort of film. Based on the novel by W. Bruce Cameron, there are touches of religious allegory – namely Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism – throughout the film, as the lead dog is constantly reincarnated, but it is obvious that the film also tries to answer the very human question of why are we here, through the eyes of a canine.
The cast of the film features Josh Gad as the voice of the dog known as Bailey, Ellie, Tino and Buddy throughout his lives, and Gad makes sure to emphasise the playful and loyal nature of dogs. The human cast is made up of Dennis Quaid, Peggy Lipton, Juliet Rylance, Britt Robertson, John Ortiz and Kirby Howell-Baptiste. Each of the actors does fine in their roles, but each also struggles as the only characters we really get to know are Bailey and his first human friend Ethan, with the others seemingly filling out the film’s running time.
It took a whopping five writers – including novelist W. Bruce Cameron – to bring ‘A Dog’s Purpose’ to the big screen; W. Bruce Cameron, Cathryn Michon, Audrey Wells, Maya Forbes and Wally Wolodarsky, and this is evident on screen. The first of Bailey’s lives is over before it begins, the seond – with Ethan and his family – is the longest, but it is the dog’s life with his fourth family that he believes to be the best, even though the audience gets to see very little of this. As mentioned, there are hints at the dog trying to find his purpose is a mirror of humans trying to find our own, but since the film offers no real answers, this feels like a waste of time, and the idea of reincarnation that keeps cropping up throughout the film feels as though it comes out of nowhere, and is included just for the sake of trying to create a narrative flow… Which does not work. There are some fun scenes, however, and the dogs are pretty cute, as is Bailey’s mourning the cat’s loss that it is not a dog.
As director, Lasse Hallström carries on his recent trend of making superficial films that are supposed to be moving but rarely are. The human performances in the film are fine – the dogs totally outshine them – and Hallström embraces the idea of ‘A Dog’s Purpose’ as canine propaganda, making sure that all actions from the dogs are seen as selfless acts of love, even when the y re eating precious artefacts or crying to be allowed to sleep on a bed. Hallström does not concern himself with the humans in the film, and does not bother fleshing out any characters while introducing subplots, only to have them vanish into thin air. Still… Dogs, Amirite!?
In all, ‘A Dog’s Purpose’ is a film that tries to answer the big questions in life through the eyes of a dog, and does not really work. Many ideas and subplots are raised in the film and allowed to fall by the way side, and the humans are never given a chance to crate real, believable or rounded characters on screen. The dogs are cute though, and even though the film is full of puppy propaganda – cats are cool too, you know! – there are some heartwarming scenes, just not enough to carry the rest of the film, which is a bit of a mess.
RATING: 2/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    Movies about dogs tend to focus more on their owners than on the dogs themselves. A Dog’s Purpose tries a different approach, going instead for a dog’s perspective down through many years. The result is very much a typical Lasse Hallstrom film.

    Bailey (voiced by Josh Gad) is a dog who doesn’t live just one short (in human years) life. He lives a dog’s life over and over again. As each decade passes, he re-incarnates as a different dog. However, he’s still haunted by the loss of his first real owner, Ethan, in the early 1960s. When Ethan (Bryce Gheisar) was a boy, he found Bailey suffocating in a car. He took him home and despite some initial hesitation from his father, Bailey soon became part of the family. Bailey came to understand humans a lot more too. As the years pass, the teenage Ethan (K.J. Apa) finds that he has less time for Bailey, as college and a girl, Hannah (Britt Robertson), beckon. But much later, Bailey has the chance to re-connect with the adult Ethan (Dennis Quaid)…

    Based on the novel by W. Bruce Cameron, A Dog’s Purpose was briefly the subject of some controversy a few weeks ago in the US, regarding footage of alleged animal cruelty on set. That footage was subsequently found to be manipulated and false, but it still must have hurt the film’s potential. The film does have potential and it’s quite affecting in spots, tying into a Marley And Me vibe. However, it’s a film that also feels disjointed, with a very dull second act that can’t quite live up to the other two book-ending acts.

    The first and third acts focus on Ethan and Bailey. It has a familiar but charming boy-and-his-dog air, with the third act catching up on lost time. Gad’s warm and always curious narration about human behavour is delightful. Adding to that, Quaid brings some burnt-out charisma as we find out what became of Ethan. Hallstrom has form in these types of films, having made the touching, heart-breaking Hachi: A Dog’s Tale. However, his second act here is a major letdown. As Bailey is re-incarnated as different dogs and has different owners each time, it feels like the original story is diminished as a result.

    While these other owners are in the book, Hallstrom could have jettisoned them to instead focus on the story that really matters. This reviewer would have liked to know more about Ethan’s adult life, but then again it’s a film with a narrow focus. That may be its ultimate flaw – the focus gives a rounded view of Bailey, but loses out on the human characters. It’s a cute, well-meaning and earnest film with a touch of Hallstrom sugar. However, this reviewer couldn’t shake off the fleas and the feeling that A Dog’s Purpose is a missed opportunity. **

    • Clive Bower

      Not the strongest film you will see with your children but then again not the worst either, kind of the middle of the road if the truth be told, a nice story but only if you must go to the cinema on a rainy day