A Dog’s Purpose is surrounded by controversy–so how did the movie turn out? Read on for our full review:
Josh Gad narrates the voice of a dog during his birth, asking the most important of questions: “Why am I here?” That’s a rather big thought for such a small animal. But the answer will have to wait as the dog finds himself entranced by food, fetch, melodrama and chasing his own tail in A Dog’s Purpose.
How could a dog possibly find its purpose for being when his life is so short with so many distractions? Don’t worry; he has plenty of time given that he can reincarnate as many times until he has completed his task. At least I think he has a task and unlimited tries. The movie is very unclear about the rules of reincarnation and crossing over to the other side. But don’t think about that–look at the cute dog make a mess of dinner with slapstick results!
His 1950s boy master Ethan dubs the dog Bailey. Bailey learns all about humans by growing up in the environment of a family home that floats between sitcom scenarios and scenes from a Lifetime movie. Ethan’s father has invited his boss over for dinner, but, uh oh, Bailey made everyone slip and trip at the dinner table with big splats into their plates of food. Dad loves his gold coin collection, but, uh oh, Bailey eats one of the coins and Ethan must comically fish the coin out of his dog’s poop. Years pass, divorce happens, love is lost, Ethan leaves for college and Bailey passes away at the vet office as Ethan observes him. A sad scene, but Bailey feels as though he hasn’t done enough and doesn’t want to leave Ethan sad.
To get back to Ethan and make sure he’s happy, Bailey is reincarnated in a variety of different dogs for shameless scenarios with more dogs. He reincarnates as a German shepherd that does lots of police work, befriending a lonely cop that lost his wife. No signs of Ethan in this lifetime. He reincarnates as a Yorkie that befriends a lonely college student who eventually forms a family of her own. No Ethan here either. Years and years pass until Bailey is finally reincarnated as the old dog that will return to Ethan who has aged into Dennis Quaid.
Will Bailey reincarnate again after making Ethan happy? That’s the wrong question to ask in such a distracted movie. The more interesting question: was Bailey’s purpose in life really to get Ethan laid?
I assume that the movie was intended for families to coo at the cuteness of abundant doggies, but I’m not too sure about that. This is a movie in which dogs are put to sleep by vets, abandoned by owners and shot by criminals with bloody results. A drunken husband attacks his wife, a cop weeps over the loss of his wife and a house fire renders Ethan crippled and depressed. These scenes don’t carry much emotional weight as the movie skips over the character development to go straight for the heartfelt and soapy moments. Ethan’s dad becomes a violent drunk, but why? Did the dog embarrassing him in front of his boss cause him to lose his job? Suddenly that slapstick dinner scene doesn’t seem as funny as it was intended.
Most of the comedy is unbearably basic as Josh Gad provides dog commentary ala Homeward Bound. When his character isn’t briefly asking the big questions of existence, his dialogue mostly consists of simplistic thoughts about eating, saving Ethan, barking at bad guys, smelling pheromones and pleading for attention. At least 90% of his dialogue is entirely unneeded, coming off more as the old America’s Funniest Home Video pet segments where Bob Saget would dub silly voices on animals. There’s a good reason dogs don’t speak English if this is all they think about.
Read more to hear about that controversial scene in A Dog’s Purpose: