Directed by Gail Mancuso
Screenplay by W. Bruce Cameron, Cathryn Michon, Maya Forbes, Wally Wolodarsky
Based on “A Dog’s Journey” by W. Bruce Cameron
Starring: Marg Helgenberger, Betty Gilpin, Henry Lau, Kathryn Prescott, Dennis Quaid, Josh Gad, Emma Volk
This might land me in hot water, but I am not a dog person.
Why, Ben, would you open a review for “A Dog’s Journey” by stating that?
That’s a good question and the simple answer is that I’ve always found them to be more animated than I am, that I could never get on a dog’s level. What a film like “A Dog’s Journey” taught me though, is that the dog initiates our connection to the dog.
It is literally love at first sight. And yet, there is something so much more than a simple connection.
“A Dog’s Journey” is a continuation of the story started in “A Dog’s Purpose” with Bailey the dog and Ethan Montgomery (Dennis Quaid in a supporting role) and his wife, Hannah (Marg Helgenberger). Lasse Hallstrom who directed that first film returns here as a producer.
Based on W. Bruce Cameron’s novel of the same name, this story concerns itself with Gloria, Hannah’s daughter-in-law and her daughter CJ. There is a discord between the trio over the care of CJ, who is the story’s protagonist. As she gets older and endures more pain throughout her life, she finds companionship in a dog.
The trailer, and the nature of “A Dog’s Purpose” suggests that Bailey passes through several dogs’ lives always being there, in some way for CJ. This is one of the film’s weaknesses. Even though she is a strong character, CJ’s (Kathryn Prescott) troubles don’t necessarily flow well with the Bailey character. Each interaction is strung together, but the separate parts don’t necessarily equal the whole.
Josh Gad provides comic relief (I guess that was an unintended doggie pun; sorry) as his journey progresses. We’re reminded of the unconditional love that a dog, or any pet can provide, making his character essential to the film, though his transitions into new lives felt more like a secondary thought to the main story than a focus.
The human supporting characters, Gloria (Betty Gilpin) and Trent (Ian Chen as the younger Trent and Henry Lau as the adult Trent) add some context and depth to CJ’s life which moves the story forward, even if the respective interactions with CJ were awkward.
I hadn’t watched “A Dog’s Purpose” prior to seeing this new film, however I don’t think that is a slight on this film. Going into this film with a limited knowledge worked for me, but it is intentionally designed around a dog’s transcendence, speaking to how dogs and humans interact with one another.
While the first and second act are hampered by the lack of a central character and interactions supported by convenience, the threads that they weave are wrapped up in an exceptionally strong third act. Whether by intention, design or divine provenance, and in spite of my preference for less spirited animals, I’ve always believed that dogs serve a higher purpose in our lives and I have the utmost respect for their companionship. You will laugh. You will cry. And, if you’re not interested in “John Wick: Chapter 3,” which also opens this weekend, you will be glad that you chose to see “A Dog’s Journey.”
2 out of 4