Co-written by Cathryn Michon, Audrey Wells, Maya Forbes, W. Bruce Cameron and Wally Wolodarsky and directed by Lasse Hallström, A Dog’s Purpose, based on the novel by W. Bruce Cameron, is the touching tale of one dog’s search for his place and the meaning of life. As his soul travels far and wide in search of his favorite boy, he learns many things, but the most important lesson, is the importance of love. Quaint, and lovable, much like our canine friends themselves, this film will warm your heart. (LMB: 3/5)
Review by FF2 Associate Lindsy M. Bissonnette
The film starts out with a hazy sequence of colored light particles floating delicately across the screen as stream of consciousness dialogue by one male voice (Josh Gad) begins to question the meaning of life of man’s best friend. Through the first few minutes of the film, the dog spirit, or soul, does not live very long in it’s new body, but is finally placed in the body of a stubborn retriever who escapes a makeshift pound, only to be picked up by two greedy men with hopes of making a sale. When the two goons leave the dog in the car in sweltering heat, 8-year old “Ethan” (Bryce Gheisar) hears its cries, and with the help of “Mom” (Juliet Rylance) they rescue the dog and bring him home. After the approval from alcoholic “Dad” (Luke Kirby), “Bailey” (Josh Gad) is one of the family.
As Ethan grows up (played by actor K.J. Apa) so does Bailey, and the two are inseparable, but as no life can last forever, Bailey passes away in the arms of his beloved family. Then it is back to hazy light particles and stream of consciousness as Bailey tries to understand his purpose in life. His love and attachment for Ethan have him feeling extremely guilty for leaving so soon. As Ethan grows into a man (played by actor Dennis Quaid), so does the spirit of Bailey, despite the many lives he (and sometimes she) has lived, Bailey does everything he can to make sure he sees his boy one last time.
All controversy aside, A Dog’s Purpose has its touching moments. The film brings in a Buddhist perspective of reincarnation that is interesting to watch unfold, and also plays on one’s emotions in all the right places. Bailey is a part of his owners lives for just the right amount of time, he gives them joy, and brings them closer with their loved ones, but then his time is up and a heart wrenching goodbye is due. The consciousness of Bailey is reborn into the canine body of many different breeds including the retriever seen for the majority of the film, a German shepherd, a corgi and others, so there is something for every dog lover in the film.
The film’s problems lie in the writing. The dialogue is disjointed, possibly from the five writers working on the screenplay, in addition to the novel it is based on. The writing makes the film’s dialogue awkward and unnatural. These are mainly the scenes between Ethan and his high school sweetheart, “Hannah” (Britt Robertson), where the dialogue is meant to feel natural, but feels quite the opposite. Moments of Bailey’s commentary, which is peppered throughout the dialogue, sometimes makes up for it, but not enough to cover the main writing problems. In addition to the dialogue, the narrative itself is a bit inconsistent. At times the story is told through the voice of Bailey, when he barks we understand what he is saying thanks to the voice of Josh Gad, but at other times Bailey only barks and there is no understanding of what he is saying.
© Lindsy M. Bissonnette FF2 Media (1/27/17)
Top Photo: Ethan and Bailey playing on the lawn.
Middle Photo: Reincarnated Bailey in a cardboard box on then back of a truck.
Bottom Photo: Ethan and Bailey united at last.
Photo Credits: Joseph Lederer
Q: Does A Dog’s Purpose pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?
This is a small cast film, and there are few female characters. Hannah and Ethan’s mother rarely interact, and there isn’t a scene between just the two of them. There is a sequence where Bailey is reincarnated as a “girl” but her owner is a male. There is another sequence where Bailey has a female owner, but she only interacts with males and Bailey (as Tino, a corgi).