BY ROGER THOMAS
Lasse Hailstorm has been directing films since the 1970’s. I became a fan a few years later in 1993 when he directed a film that I continue to enjoy every time I see it. That film is “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.” It is a masterpiece that contains one of my all-time favorite sentences of dialogue. Gilbert’s girlfriend, Becky, asked him to tell her his wishes. He makes wishes for all his family and then she challenges him by asking what does he wish for himself. He replies simply, “I want to be a good person.” Oh, that we all would wish for that, or pray for that, what a different world we might have.
Every since “Gilbert Grape” I have searched for another Hailstorm film that resonates as “Gilbert” did. There has never been one for me, but I will keep looking. Hailstorm has directed two “Best Picture” nominees: “The Cider House Rules” and “Chocolat.” More recently he did “The Hundred-Foot Journey” in 2014, which was a very charming film.
Now he has followed “Journey” with something completely different, “A Dog’s Purpose.”
First, let’s talk about what the film is. This is sweet, clean story about dogs and people who love them. I cannot imagine any dog owner not relating to the film. I am a cat person. My children and I have five cats. My family had dogs when I was growing up and I loved our pets. When I finished my education, I got a dog. I had a dog until in my late thirties, then I became a cat person.
I offer that bio to say this; anyone who has ever had a dog they cared about, will find some comfort in this film. I know I did. As I departed the theatre when the film ended, I got in a conversation with others and we all talked about how hard it is to lose a dog to death.
So here are my thoughts about the film. First, “Dog’s Purpose” has repeating occurrences of reincarnation. I do not believe in reincarnation, but I am not offended when it is used as a plot in a fictional story. If the concept of reincarnation disturbs you, then you should probably avoid the film.
As for the strengths of the film, the first and foremost is that this is a sweet film with lots of humor and fun. It reminded me very much of the those old classic dog films upon which I grew up: “Old Yeller,” “Where the Red Ferns Grow,” and “The Biscuit Eater,” just to name a few. The film is wholesome. (As long as the reincarnation plot is not disturbing.)
There are sad moments, more than a few, as life happens to the human and canine characters, but when the story is completed, it leaves you with pleasant thoughts and memories, especially for those who hold their pets dear.
Though the dogs all do good work, there are some human actors that also shine. Three actors, Bryce Gheisar, K. J. Apa, and Dennis Quaid play the dog’s first owner at three different stages of the human’s life. Each of these offer good moments, especially Apa.
“A Dog’s Purpose” is not one of Halllstrom’s best works. I will still have to wait for another “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.”
After the end credits roll, there is not a lot to ponder or debate. I am not sure this film will even be remembered by anyone when summer rolls around. But if you love dogs, and do not mind reincarnation in the plot, this might just be the perfect innocent film to offer you a break from the busy activities of life.
(There is some controversy pertaining to the care of the film’s animals. I am not justifying those accounts. I am just reviewing a film.)
Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.