I’m not a fan of Lasse Hallström (the only film I remotely like being My Life as a Dog) because I consistently find his work rather sappy and manipulative in the worst sense, so upon the notion he would direct another dog film after especially resentful feelings from Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, I would only expect something along the same lines – a sappy drama that panders towards dog lovers and for kids at the same time, but can sweetness save everything like it did for some moments of Hachi? Whatever there is to say there, it’s unfortunately not the case here for I would have expected from the premise something fascinating with its existence in the vein of Nine Lives (which I’m kind of glad exists), but A Dog’s Purpose sadly isn’t that.
Our premise is fascinating almost for the wrong reasons at that, our protagonist is a dog whose voice is provided by Josh Gad – and his journey through reincarnating as a different dog through several different lives. The premise alone already gives me a vibe that because this dog is living through several different lives it would be a fascinating watch just to watch how everything finds itself crumbling apart (once again calling back to what I expected out of Nine Lives and ultimately received) but in the case of A Dog’s Purpose I never found any of that from this experience, rather instead it was just a chore to even keep my own eyes open because it didn’t seem it tried to grab our attention.
Many of the typical Lasse Hallström tropes have come back in A Dog’s Purpose whether it comes from the overly sappy attempts at trying to grab one’s emotion so and so to the point it makes its manipulation of the senses incredibly blatant, but that’s one of the least surprising things to come from A Dog’s Purpose. The very least I can even credit it is how it’s not a film that’s actively harmful especially when it comes down to the way it handles even its sappiest moments but the problem comes about from how it either can’t keep a consistent tone or just actively feels so discontent regarding how much more it wants to show to its viewers. It just has more of a focus on jumping from scene to scene and it doesn’t even attempt to go further from there.
Josh Gad’s voice as the dog is particularly grating to hear but noting how the dog is the protagonist to the story inside of this world where humans find more “purposes” for him, it sinks the film down even more when the dog is just not an interesting character altogether. It’s bad enough that the film doesn’t seem to want to carry so much of a cohesive story but no matter what all the cute dogs may be able to offer in their presence, it never seems like it’s enough to create a particularly fascinating character especially when you have Josh Gad’s rather annoying voice coming to narrate their thoughts. I thought I’ve already have had enough of hearing Josh Gad’s voice from his role as Olaf in Frozen where his comic relief was grating enough but now with him as the lead, one can only prepare to shield their own ears from what they will see.
The very worst aspect of A Dog’s Purpose is something that I’ve already established, there’s no real sense of story or development from the dog’s point of view or is it even interested in forming such – and overall it seems to have no purpose existing yet it does. A Dog’s Purpose can’t ever find a reason to justify its existence and just wastes time even trying to string things together to build a “scenario” without creating a point in itself. Moments of sentimentality come aboard typical of a Lasse Hallström film but because of how it feels as if there is no real point even trying to be made by A Dog’s Purpose, it’s only a boring film at even some of its very best moments. The human actors don’t particularly make the scenes any better than they already are, rather instead they just phone themselves in along with everything else.
A Dog’s Purpose is a baffling film but not in the same way that last year’s Nine Lives ever was. Where at least Nine Lives might have been fascinatingly bad or funny for the wrong reasons, A Dog’s Purpose wouldn’t even find itself working in that manner because it seems as if it just takes itself far too seriously for its own good or feels so grating all the way through. But like Nine Lives it’s a fairly harmless film featuring a cute animal so I guess there’s that, because we’ve already seen even worse stuff coming from Lasse Hallström’s end when he adapted Nicholas Sparks novels or made the deplorable Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Universal.
Directed by Lasse Hallström
Screenplay by W. Bruce Cameron, Cathryn Michon, Audrey Wells, Maya Forbes, Wally Wolodarsky, from the book by Cameron
Produced by Gavin Polone
Starring Dennis Quaid, Britt Robertson, Josh Gad, KJ Apa, Juliet Rylance, John Ortiz, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Peggy Lipton
Release Year: 2017
Running Time: 120 minutes