Film: “A Dog’s Purpose”; Director: Lasse Halstrom; Cast: Josh Gad, Dennis Quaid, Peggy Lipton, Bryce Gheisar, K.J. Apa, Juliet Rylance, Luke Kirby, Gabrielle Rose, Michael Bofshever, Britt Robertson, Logan Miller, Kirby Howel-Baptiste, Pooch Hall and John Ortiz; Rating: ***1/2
“A Dog’s Purpose”, directed by Lasse Hallstrom, is an emotionally-packed dramedy based on the similarly-titled 2010 novel by American humourist W. Bruce Cameron. The narrative shares the soulful and surprising story of a devoted dog who finds the meaning of his own existence through the lives of the humans he teaches to laugh and love.
The film begins on a very melodramatic note and quickly settles on Bailey, a Golden Retriever whose life is shown from his birth to his death and his reincarnation through three other different breeds and genders; Ellie – the German Shepherd K-9, Tino – the Pembroke Welsh Corgi and as Buddy- The Saint Bernard. Each time he is reincarnated, it tells his story from life to death except in his latest life where he meets Ethan, his first owner, once again.
In a major chunk of the film, we see a rather traditional boy-and-his-pet tale unfold. An emaciated dog is adopted by the eight-year-old Ethan who christens him Bailey. They become soul mates as Ethan grows up into his teens.
This section of the narrative veers from cute to slapstick silly antics such as the comic disruption of an important business dinner party to pure melodrama with the over-the-top alcoholic Jim, Ethan’s father as well as a school bully who harms Ethan. Each episode drags down the proceedings from the real star of the show, Bailey, who like all the dogs in the film is magnificently trained and appealing on screen. There is also a budding romance between Ethan and Hannah that the dog sweetly lands right in the middle of.
With each death and reincarnation, the graph of the plot oscillates from sentimental to dramatic comedy which comes a full circle where the core message, and love of animals, is delivered in the film. But there is never that moment that just breaks you in the way you expect a film like this to do.
The stars of the show are clearly the dogs, as well as the right-on-the-mark voice-over by Josh Gad who lends his voice for Bailey, Ellie, Tino and Buddy. Gad invests his vocal performance with just the right touch of quaintness, eccentricities and curiosities.
Bryce Gheisar as the young Ethan and K.J. Apa as the teenager, are charming and effortless so is Dennis Quaid as the older Ethan.
Britt Robertson as the young Hannah, Peggy Lipton as the older Hannah, Kirby Howell Baptiste as Tino’s owner and Juliet Rylance as Ethan’s mom are cute and equally competent.
John Ortiz as the squad officer Carlos has nothing much to offer, and is perfunctory.
Luke Kirby as Ethan’s dad Jim, Logan Miller as the school bully, are in thankless role but overdo it anyway.
Director Hallstrom succeeds in providing a diversified visual style to the proceedings, thanks to Terry Stacey the Directory of Photography and Michael Carlin, the production designer. The period-appropriate pop songs that fill the sound track, conveys the various time slots and Composer Rachel Portman’s score drives home the right notes.
Overall, the film certainly tugs at the heartstrings of anyone who has ever loved a pet.