Released: 15th August
Seen: 24th August
Today I officially pass a milestone, one I’m genuinely proud of. This is my 100th review for 2019, specifically my 100th review of a current film that’s in cinemas right now. If we include recent throwback reviews, editorials and the Drag Race stuff, the number would be higher but doing 100 written reviews of films from this year feels pretty big, pretty special. It’s the kind of thing that one celebrates by adjusting their schedule and making sure the 100th film is in some way relevant to this blog and my history as a reviewer. Luckily for me, such a film came out. In the first year of this blog I produced a list of the worst films of 2017 and at the very top of that list was a little film called A Dog’s Purpose. I will contend that this film is one of the worst I’ve ever seen and I legitimately loathe everything about it. I also hate its spinoff that came out recently and now we’re at the official sequel, A Dog’s Journey and I am gleeful to inform you that I don’t hate it… hate implies feelings, and this film doesn’t deserve that kind of reaction.
A Dog’s Journey once again follows a dog named Bailey (Josh Gad) who finds himself leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong and hoping each time that his next leap will be the leap home. He starts this movie with his original owner Ethan (Dennis Quaid) who is still happily married and is now helping raise his granddaughter CJ, since her mother Gloria (Betty Gilpin). Gloria is a terrible parent, an alcoholic and a control freak who is one of the many objectively bad people that litters this movie and because she has a crazy angry fit, Gloria takes her daughter to move to New York. Shortly after this, Bailey dies for the first time in this movie and Ethan tells him to look after CJ. So begins Bailey’s journey going from dog to dog, following CJ around through childhood and even as an adult (now played by Kathryn Prescott) and trying to help her when she’s sad, when she’s scared, or when she wants to climb her childhood friend Trent (Henry Lau) like a tree.
Once again this film just relies heavily on being emotionally manipulative by having a dog look directly into the camera as the light leaves its eyes and it dies, either by being put down or being in a car accident or just by getting so old that it passes on and goes to that big farm in the sky. The emotional beats of this film entirely rely on you watching dogs die; it’s the only way this film understands how to make you feel upset. They do occasionally try to have different emotional moments, such as when Trent gets cancer but then the manipulation just becomes “Nice person has a deadly illness… CRY DAMN YOU”. There’s no build-up, no care, no actual reaction to the emotion. Nope, it’s time for the audience to cry so get me the metaphorical shotgun so I can shoot the dog in the face while you watch.
This film does improve on the previous film one key way, we only follow CJ’s story and don’t go off on wild tangents. In Dog’s Purpose, everything felt disconnected because the entire middle of the film had nothing to do with the relationship between Bailey and Ethan so by having this film stick to following CJ, it at least provides a structure to work around. A boring structure that made me contemplate pulling my phone out to play Stardew Valley, but a structure none the less. Incidentally, I didn’t pull my phone out but only because there were other people in the cinema and that would’ve been rude… I was tempted but didn’t do it, give me praise for that.
With this new structure though, there is still so much stupid manipulation that never pays off properly. For example, there’s a long period in the film where CJ is dating this bad boy called Shane (Jake Manley) and he’s really not nice, he sells drugs and sexually assaults CJ. He does all the bad things… and then he tries to run CJ off the road, actually flips her car over with her and Bailey inside it which ends up killing the dog. So, surely this ends with Shane going to court and we’re going to do a bit of story about how abusive men should be locked up, right? We’re going to make him pay for being an abuser who murdered a dog and almost killed and raped a girl right? No? No, we’re just going to have him almost murder CJ, actually kill a dog and then never be seen again because we have the dead dog and therefore have the emotional reaction we were hoping for. This happens a lot, actual potentially dramatic plotlines appear, poised and ready to attempt being part of a movie only to be snatched away because there’s a dead dog so they aren’t needed.
If they aren’t dealt with by being ignored in favour of the dead dog, then plotlines are done off-screen or in a montage where they can be as pointless as possible. The cancer? A montage where the character with cancer is basically fine, he has a very extreme flu that makes him bald. The abusive mother getting her sobriety? Off-screen, she was a bitch before but now she’s nice so we can move on. Ethan slowly dying? Off-screen until the last second because yay, we can make you cry over another death and also we can show off the god awful aging makeup we put on our actors. It’s all so passive, like the movie barely even cares about the story it’s trying to tell and brushes all the interesting stuff aside because that stuff would be difficult to dive into. It’s much easier to watch a dog slowly close his eyes while the snowman from Frozen talks about the pain melting away, that’s much easier than trying to tell an interesting story.
Congratulations A Dog’s Journey, you aren’t as bad as A Dog’s Purpose… you’re still not good though. Obscenely saccharine without an ounce of value, no interesting performances or moments of dialogue. The dog has gone from taking a dump on my shoe while I’m still wearing it to taking a dump just in front of the door to the backyard, it’s an improvement but it’s still not acceptable. If this happens to be on TV then a small child might enjoy it, because children like to look at cute puppies making cute faces so just go find a YouTube video of puppies being cute and watch that, save yourself 15 bucks and avoid watching those dogs die when the “filmmakers” decide they’d really like you to cry now. Here’s hoping that this film’s box office was so bad that they’ll euthanize this series and put it out of my misery.