A Dog’s Purpose – Movie Review
Rating: B- (Okay)
Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Universal Pictures
The connection owners have with dogs makes it difficult for most films centered on the canine species to not go down a sad road. A Dog’s Purpose doubles down on this by having a dog die and be reincarnated multiple times in the film. Director Lasse Hallstrom is no stranger to schmaltz and while this picture certainly has its fair share of sentimentality, it is a rather inoffensive picture with its heart in the right place. It has its moments of cheese, but it frames it in a story where it would have been tricky to tell it without getting emotional at multiple points.
From the first frame, in which many newborn puppies are shown cuddling under their mother’s care, it’s clear A Dog’s Purpose is meant to gain “aww”s from the audience. The four reincarnated dogs serve their purpose of being cute and adorable and capturing the different types of canines out there, from athletic to lazy. Josh Gad’s voice-over could have been treacly and layering it on too thick, but it somehow manages to portray the innocent thoughts of a dog. He never knows more than what an average dog in those situations would. The connection between the various dogs and their owners also feels genuine.
The vast majority of A Dog’s Purpose revolves around the titular dog as Ethan’s pet, which creates an obvious predictability when he starts reincarnating. This portion feels most like a Nicholas Sparks film, but K.J. Apa and Britt Robertson share some sweet chemistry. Robertson, who has become a rising star in recent years, lights up the screen when she appears, so her minimal screen time is a disappointment. Dennis Quaid and Peggy Lipton manage to assume the roles of the adult Ethan and Hannah and do feel like the same people. The script does go through many hoops and coincidences in the final act to justify what happens.
Even with the scenes of genuine sweetness, the dialogue in A Dog’s Purpose does occasionally fall into cheesy and predictable territory. Early scenes with Ethan’s father already point to the road that character will go down. One later sequence with the older Ethan and his new dog cannot help but go deeply into schmaltz territory. Hallstrom also makes odd directorial decisions from time to time, including the choice to sometimes cut to the dog’s point-of-view. This results in a lot of awkward close-ups. The dog’s other owners aren’t given enough screen time to shine, though his relationship with an undergraduate and later mother is a sweet one.
A Dog’s Purpose is undoubtedly schmaltzy and sad, but it’s hard to make a tale about a dog without falling into that territory. Despite the occasional cheesiness of the screenplay, the film means well and certainly won’t offend any sensibilities. It’s a simple story with the intent only to tug at the heart strings and it does do that at a couple of points. This is exactly the kind of entertainment Lasse Hallstrom has made a career directing and he handles the task with knowledge of what audience he should be aiming towards. It’s pure airplane fluff and nothing more, nothing less.