UK Release Date: 5th May 2017
Runtime: 98 minutes
Director: Lasse Hallström
Writer: W Bruce Cameron, Cathryn Michon, Audrey Wells, Maya Forbes, Wally Wolodarsky
Starring: Josh Gad, Dennis Quaid, Britt Robertson, KJ Apa, Peggy Lipton, John Ortiz, Kirby Howell-Baptiste
Synopsis: A dog is reincarnated into different bodies over many years and experiences a wide variety of owners, with different problems in their lives.
When it received a release in the United States earlier this year, A Dog’s Purpose was troubled by allegations of animal cruelty on the set. A video, released by gossip website TMZ, appeared to show a German Shepherd being repeatedly forced into water. The video was subsequently debunked and the film has now made its way into British cinemas. It’s a cutesy and mawkish movie with an achingly sentimental tone. Despite that, though, it’s oddly sweet and quietly entertaining. It certainly doesn’t sit amongst the best of Amblin’s output, but it’s a tearjerker of a ride.
Bailey (Josh Gad) is the beloved Golden Retriever pet of teenager Ethan (KJ Apa), having been at his side since Ethan was a kid. Ethan is dating Hannah (Britt Robertson) and is on his way to college, having earned a football scholarship, when his life goes badly wrong and Bailey subsequently dies. Years later, after Bailey has lived through several more lives as a police dog and the best friend of a lonely young woman, he reconnects with Ethan (Dennis Quaid), who is living alone, and decides that he must help his former friend to see that he has returned.
People often look down on films that primarily tend towards sentimentality. In the case of A Dog’s Purpose, however, the film works as a piece of nakedly sentimental entertainment, designed to tug at the audience’s heartstrings. It occasionally feels like it might be more at home as an hour-long weekend special on the Disney Channel rather than a major motion picture, but there’s more than enough real heart and emotion behind the story to ensure that there is more to this than just a trite, clichéd tale of man’s best friend.
The whole film is held together by Josh Gad’s wry comic voiceover, which gives a genuinely amusing dog’s eye view of the world. Gad does a stellar job and the gags stick to the right side of annoying – similar to his Olaf in Frozen. The first few times that we see dogs pass away are genuinely horrifying and emotional, but it feels like a manipulation tactic when it happens so many times and the impact is gradually lessened throughout. The final scenes, though, bring everything back around with a soaring conclusion that will bring all but the most emotionless drones to tears.
It’s in the early segments that A Dog’s Purpose really works its magic on the audience. The performances from KJ Apa and Britt Robertson are strong enough to carry a really satisfying emotional story. Robertson, in particular, is able to do plenty with the relatively meagre scraps handed to her by the script – penned by a combination of five scriptwriters. She’s great in the role and Apa forms a convincing double act with her, which lends the first half of the film a real sense of emotional heft.
A Dog’s Purpose is an inherently episodic film that has a habit of leaving characters behind just as they are becoming interesting, but its main story is genuinely compelling. It’s not complicated and much of the storytelling can be boiled down to a basic ploy for emotional reactions, but director Lasse Hallström executes his ploys with real flair and simplicity. Hallström is a veteran of emotional cinema, having made a number of Nicholas Sparks adaptations, and this is a satisfying story with an emotional twist in its tale… or tail?
Pop or Poop?
Josh Gad’s cutesy voice performance and a selection of sweet turns from the ensemble cast are enough to paper over the cracks of A Dog’s Purpose, which is an occasionally over-ripe and often syrupy tale that has emotional manipulation as its only goal.
Britt Robertson and KJ Apa are the emotional high point of the entire film and it never quite attains those heights outside of their scenes, but there’s enough going on to give the tear ducts a workout.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.