A Dog’s Purpose

For F*** Magazine

A DOG’S PURPOSE

Director : Lasse Hallström
Cast : Josh Gad, Dennis Quaid, Britt Robertson, K.J. Apa, John Ortiz, Juilet Rylance, Luke Kirby, Peggy Lipton, Bryce Gheisar, Pooch Hall
Genre : Drama/Family
Run Time : 1h 41min
Opens : 2 March 2017
Rating : PG

a-dogs-purpose-posterThere is a wealth of movie-related resources online. Beyond the obvious review sites, one can peruse elaborate fan theories, read up on how a biopic measures up against historical fact, or check if a given film passes the Bechdel Test. DoesTheDogDie.com catalogues movies in which animals are put in peril. Here we have a movie which is predicated upon the dog dying several times.

 

Josh Gad provides the internal monologue of a dog’s spirit. In 1961, we meet this dog as the Golden Retriever Bailey. 8-year-old Ethan Montgomery (Gheisar) convinces his parents Jim (Kirby) and Elizabeth (Rylance) to let him keep the dog. They become best friends, and several years later, Bailey remains by the now-teenage Ethan’s (Apa) side as he falls in love with his classmate Hannah (Robertson).

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After Bailey dies, he gets reincarnated as Ellie, a German Shepherd K-9 who is paired with police officer Carlos Ruiz (Ortiz) in 80s Chicago. In her next life, Ellie becomes a Pembroke Welsh Corgi named Tino, who is taken in by an Atlanta college student named Maya (Howell-Baptiste) and accompanies her as she starts a family. Finally, Tino is reincarnated as a St. Bernard/Australian Shepherd mix named Buddy, who is neglected by his trailer trash owners Victor (Primo Allen) and Wendi (Nicole LaPlaca). Buddy is eventually dumped in an abandoned lot, and seeks a place where he belongs and after many lifetimes, comes to understand what his purpose on earth is.

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A Dog’s Purpose is adapted from the novel of the same name by W. Bruce Cameron, who is also one of the five credited screenwriters. Director Lasse Hallström, who also helmed the canine-centric Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, has put together an unabashed tearjerker. A Dog’s Purpose is geared towards anyone with even the slightest affection for dogs and advocates adoption and rescue. The problem is that people who love dogs generally don’t want to see dogs in pain or die onscreen, and there’s a great deal of canine misfortune, packed in with cutesy shenanigans. The emotional manipulation is plentiful and blatant, and because of the film’s episodic nature, the relationships between the human characters are largely simplistic.

Then there’s the elephant in the room, the infamous leaked video taken on the set of the film that showed a German Shepherd named Hercules being forced into rushing water. This drew sharp outcry, and while an investigation conducted by an independent animal cruelty expert concluded that proper safety measures were taken and that the video had been manipulatively edited, the damage was done. The film’s Los Angeles premiere was scrapped and A Dog’s Purpose will forever be tied to the abuse allegations. It’s possible that animals are often coerced in the making of movies and TV shows, if not mistreated, and this has further fuelled the debate of whether animals should be made to perform for the sake of human entertainment. It dates back to the days of circuses, and we’ll go out on a limb and say that animal actors in Hollywood are generally treated far better than circus animals.

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A Dog’s Purpose is ambitious in that the story spans several decades, and it features a convincing if sanitized re-creation of nostalgic Americana in its first segment. Bradley Cooper was originally cast as the voice of the dog, and was replaced by Gad. Gad has the wide-eyed earnestness down pat, but the voiceover is a big part of why the film is as heavy-handed as it is. Apa, currently playing Archie on Riverdale, makes for a decent teen heartthrob, while Robertson is appealing as she usually is. Quaid, the film’s most recognisable star, doesn’t get all that much to do. Both Ortiz’s Carlos and Howell-Baptiste’s Maya are likeable in their own ways, but suffer from the thin characterisation necessitated by the film’s vignette format.

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A Dog’s Purpose is filled with especially adorable canines (our screening seemed particularly taken with that Corgi), but its sentimentality is relentless and comes off as patronising. The plot of A Dog’s Purpose needs multiple dead dogs to make its altogether simple point. There are charming moments and large swathes of moviegoers will get misty-eyed, but A Dog’s Purpose often forgoes meaningful storytelling in favour of emotionally-manipulative shorthand.

 

Summary: There’s little profundity to be found in this tearjerker, though some will find its syrupy aw-shucks wholesomeness appealing. And, naturally, the dogs are really cute.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Space Between Us

For F*** Magazine

THE SPACE BETWEEN US 

Director : Peter Chelsom
Cast : Asa Butterfield, Britt Robertson, Gary Oldman, B.D. Wong, Carla Gugino, Janet Montgomery
Genre : Sci-Fi/Romance
Run Time : 120 mins
Opens : 16 February 2017
Rating : PG (Some Sexual References)

the-space-between-us-posterEnder’s Game might not have been successful enough to warrant a sequel, but Asa Butterfield is back in a spacesuit anyway in this sci-fi romance. Butterfield plays Gardner Elliott, who has spent all of his 16 years living in the East Texas habitat on Mars, raised by the scientist Kendra (Gugino). Gardner’s mother Sarah (Montgomery) was an astronaut on the pioneering manned mission to Mars, who died giving birth to Gardner. Nathaniel Shepherd (Oldman), the owner of Genesis Space Technologies, and mission director Chen (Wong) disagree over whether to go public with Gardner’s existence. Gardner befriends Tulsa (Robertson), a disaffected teenage girl, online. When Gardner arrives on earth, he convinces Tulsa to help him search for the father he’s never known. When Kendra, Nathaniel and Chen conclude that Gardner will be unable to withstand earth’s gravity and atmosphere, they must save him before it’s too late.

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The premise of a kid who’s spent his whole life on a different planet and becomes a fish out of water on earth has tremendous potential for drama and comedy, unfolding within a sci-fi context. Director Peter Chelsom, whose credits include Serendipity, The Hannah Montana Movie and Hector and the Search for Happiness, approaches this as a teen romance. There are several scenes set on Mars and there’s some vaguely credible techno-babble tossed about, but the bulk of the film ends up being a largely ordinary road trip love story. While it’s admirable that this is a character drama at heart, the film’s tone lands somewhere between awkward-cute and melodramatic rather than genuinely stirring or thought-provoking.

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We learn from Sarah’s memorial plaque on the Martian surface that she died in 2018. Gardner is 16 years old, so the bulk of the film takes place in 2034. It turns out that the United States of 2034 is barely distinguishable from that of 2017, and it seems due more to budget constraints than anything else. There’s a transparent laptop or two, but other than that, there’s nothing in the scenes taking place on earth to indicate that this is set in the future. It’s a bit of a shame, given that there’s attention to detail paid in other aspects: for example, Mars is accurately depicted as having a weaker gravity than earth, something which The Martian dispensed with because it would be too labour-intensive to portray consistently.the-space-between-us-asa-butterfield-1

 

Butterfield can play endearingly awkward in his sleep, and is fun to watch here. While there are too many twee fish out of water moments in which Gardner is awestruck by the most mundane things, there’s a real sweetness and sincerity that Butterfield brings to the part. The relationship between Gardner and Tulsa is central to the film, and while attempts at character development are made, the romance progresses too quickly and too Hollywood-y to be believable.

the-space-between-us-britt-robertson-1Robertson is a lively performer – her facial expressions in Tomorrowland reminded this reviewer of a Pixar character come to life. Both Tulsa and Gardner haven’t had much meaningful human connection in their lives, and find solace in each other. However, the journey from rom-com bickering to heartfelt professions of love takes a remarkably short time. This means that the relationship drama is not entirely successful at grounding the more fantastical elements of the story.

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Oldman is never a boring actor to watch, but his performance here is broader than required, with too much flailing and bluster for us to take him seriously as the boss of a spaceflight technology firm. Gugino’s Kendra is warm and intelligent, but unsure of how to connect to Gardner as his maternal figure. Wong doesn’t get to do much beyond arguing with Oldman, but it did let us imagine that Commissioner Gordon was having a heated disagreement with Hugo Strange.the-space-between-us-asa-butterfield-2

The Space Between Us isn’t an adaptation of a Young Adult novel, but it sure feels like one – perhaps it should be called The Fault in Our Mars. As a quirky teen-aimed romance, The Space Between Us has its charms and its leads are appealing enough to make up for the cheesiness and soap opera melodrama, especially in the concluding big reveal. It’s too bad that the film fails to meaningfully examine the themes of belonging and the role of scientific advancements in how we connect to other people. A science-fiction film that focuses on relationships rather than wham-bam spectacle or mind-bending metaphysics is a novel prospect, but The Space Between Us misses the opportunity to be sublime and profound.

Summary: The Space Between Us tries and barely succeeds at blending coming-of-age teen romance with science fiction, but it attains lift-off thanks to its endearing young leads.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong