A Dog’s Journey, 2019.
Directed by Gail Mancuso.
Starring Dennis Quaid, Betty Gilpin, Josh Gad, Abby Ryder Fortson, Marg Helgenberger, Kathryn Prescott, Ian Chen, Daniela Barbosa, Jake Manley, and Henry Lau.
A dog finds the meaning of his own existence through the lives of the humans he meets.
Two things become clear while watching A Dog’s Journey (to be fair, both revelations can be had during the film’s predecessor as well, A Dog’s Purpose); for how spirited and playful and joyful Josh Gad is doing the voiceover work for the reincarnated canine soul, the films would most likely function better emotionally without such an overbearing presence in favor of a degree of subtlety. The second is that the book source material from W. Bruce Cameron is much more adult-oriented, meaning that these family-friendly adaptations are stripping down the heart of the stories in order for Hollywood to manufacture something palatable for all audiences. It doesn’t work, as in both movies there’s always heavier and sometimes dark events around the corner, more so this time around, but they’re not given the freedom they need to land at any weight.
Gail Mancuso is now in the director’s chair taking over for Lasse Hallstrom (using a script from numerous names including W. Bruce Cameron himself once again) which, in theory, is a wise decision considering A Dog’s Journey centers on a young woman, but the story doesn’t try to get in her head or examine her abusive upbringing in any meaningful way. Instead, she chooses to date some terribly controlling men while somehow not catching the signal that her childhood best friend is really into her. When your dog is criticizing your dating life, you’ve got problems.
Keeping bad guys at bay is part of Bailey’s purpose, tasked with protecting young Calamity Jane, or CJ for short, by Dennis Quaid’s now grandfather Ethan (returning to the series where he left off, older and frail) as she needs his companionship and spiritual guidance more than him. Unfortunately, his daughter Gloria (Betty Gilpin) is in a confused state of emotions regarding the tragic death of her husband, which sort of causes a downward spiral leading her to abandon her parents assuming that they are against her when all they really want her to do is tone down the drinking and take responsibility as a parent. Meanwhile, Bailey himself is on death’s door, so it’s clear that once he is reborn into the body of another dog, finding and caring for CJ in Chicago will become his lifelong fulfilling quest.
is a much different experience from the first entry right down to its structure. Rather than having the dog search multiple lifetimes to meet up with his destined owner, he is reborn as Molly and is coincidently adopted by CJ as a child (without her drunken mother’s permission, of course). It’s actually jarring and instantly makes one wonder if the film is going to go for a twist where the dog cares for the wrong person, at least until you start hearing the aligning names of the characters.
Regardless, this childhood portion (in which CJ is played by Ant-Man‘s Abby Ryder Fortson) is easily the strongest section from an emotional standpoint, most notably in a sequence where her mother is out all night drinking with one of her many awful boyfriends over the years, leaving the 11-year-old child at home crying during a scary thunderstorm, which slowly becomes less terrifying with the canine by her side. Soon after, there is a scene of her playing guitar next to the dog, and it’s the closest these movies have ever come to contained affecting drama that does not need manipulation to bring out the feels. It’s fair to even go as far as saying the seriousness of the story works here despite the PG rating.
Through no fault of Kathryn Prescott, the larger portion showing CJ as a teenager up to her young adult years simply doesn’t work, mainly because the writing becomes so episodic and fast-moving that it’s hard to care about anything, whether it’s stalker boyfriends causing car accidents or important characters learning they have cancer. To give you an idea of how crippling some of this really is, the cancer subplot is resolved in 10 minutes, complete with the character’s hair grown back in what seems like a week following winning the battle. The movie is more interested in going through the motions as family-friendly as it can rather than functioning as something of substance.
Kids will laugh at the broad doggie humor, adults will most likely find themselves crying during the closing heartstring-tugging moments (it goes for that so hard, that you kind of have no choice but to surrender some kind of sadness), everyone will be united thinking that CJ needs to stop messing around with every dopey guy on the block (it’s truly perplexing that she seems to only go for guys that either want to stifle her musical ambitions or mistreat her) and get with her best friend Trent (Korean pop star Henry Lau as the lovable nice guy that also enjoys the company of dogs), and Hollywood will approve another installment in this series. Although if I had to choose between the two so far, at least A Dog’s Journey might prove to be empowering to young girls in various ways. Either way, these books probably deserve better.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com