You already know whether or not you’re going to go see A Dog’s Way Home, and I’m strongly sure that a majority of you feel like you’ve already seen it after watching the trailer in front of some other movie this past holiday season. It’s a movie with a poster that features an impossibly small puppy fitting comfortably inside of a size ten Chuck Taylor, and the tagline “A lot can happen between lost and found…” Not to give into cynicism or a nihilistic attitude given that we are knee deep into January, a month known for being Hollywood’s dumping ground for low-tier films and guaranteed bombs (that is, before Netflix arrived to save us from such surefire classics as The Magnificent Seven and Michael Peña’s Extinction), but the fact of the matter is that the deck is stacked against this film from the ground up.
With that said, A Dog’s Way Home isn’t as bad as some of the films that have come to codify this month’s reputation for mediocrity, as it is just mind-bogglingly weird.
Racism for dogs
A Dog’s Way Home (released January 11th, 2019), follows the story of Bella (whose inner monologue provided by Bryce-Dallas Howard sounds like an off-brand Amy Poehler), a dog who undergoes a Pacific Northwestern odyssey after being lost from her owner, Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King) in the hopes of reuniting with her owner and, get this, finding her way home. Shenanigans ensue, and the whole affair was laid out in bleedingly intricate detail in the trailer you were forced to watch in front of Into the Spider-Verse a few weeks ago…or was it?
If there are any true compliments I can give the film (and by proxy, it’s advertising campaign), it’s that A Dog’s Way Home has a surprising sense of darkness to it that the trailers all but completely hid until the film’s release. One of the core themes of the film is the stigma that centers against Pitbulls and the stereotype of that particular breed being inherently dangerous and aggressive, and I genuinely appreciate the fact that the filmmakers were willing to try to tackle a more serious issue in their puppy shenanigans movie, much like how one would stuff a pill in some baloney (or other associated lunchmeats) in order to actually get it down a dog’s gullet.
The problem, however, is that this issue is really only touched upon at the opening and ending of the film. When it does, it’s accompanied and personified by strawman characters (most prominently a character who I had affably come to refer to as Walter Peck: Russel Wrangler), and lacks any levels of subtlety, whatsoever. The same can be said for the rest of the “surprises” that the movie was able to keep under wraps.
Long night of the dead hobo in the woods
I honestly find it hard to describe some of the things that actually happen in this movie, to the point that it almost feels like parts of the screenplay were written round robin-style, with different people having to pick up from where the last person left off, and near constantly trying to one-up each other in terms of how ridiculously dark they can make the story at a moment’s notice. Case in point, I will now describe a section from later on in the film, in which our protagonist gets chained to the corpse of a homeless man on top of a trash pile in the woods and nearly starved to death.
After escaping the “clutches” of an ambiguously gay couple with whom she saved an old man from an avalanche after raising and befriending a cartoon cougar, Bella is ultimately picked up by a sad old homeless man, who uses her to successfully panhandle for money and maintain warmth in the Colorado winter. Eventually, Bella starts to remark on how much sadder and sadder the man became, and we eventually see him take her to his own personal Mt. Krumpet in the middle of nowhere. The man chains Bella’s collar to a keyring on his pants, and passes out, only to die directly in front of the camera and Bella to literally remark on the warmth leaving his body. This then leads to a mini-montage of Bella starting to starve to death as the hobo’s corpse starts to subtly decompose and-
You get the point. She gets saved by two bike children who have their own little “Stand By Me” moment, but that doesn’t change the fact that A Dog’s Way Home thinks that this is appropriate to show sandwiched between montage after montage of doggy shenanigans. The overall scene structure in the film has this strange, almost Shakespearean rhyme scheme of cute puppy dog eyes and unrelenting realism that feels like sheer emotional whiplash. In other words, it’s like poetry. It rhymes, and has a dead hobo smack dab in the middle of it.
Rating the Dog
With A Dog’s Way Home, the fact of the matter is that this film wasn’t made for me. It was made for little kids who get a kick out of the secret lives and thoughts of our four-legged friends, and Pinterest grandmothers who can’t wait to talk to their bridge club about when the dog in that delightful little movie did a funny to the tune of “Rolling on the River.” The theatre I saw this film in was fairly full with people of this sort, and as I was leaving, it seemed like they had gotten their money’s worth and enjoyed the show. Nothing wrong with that, of course.
However, it seems like it’d be much easier (and far less expensive) to just look up dog videos online for two hours and fill in your own commentary. Better yet, just look up the trailer! Aside from the mass tonal issues, RuneScape-level CGI, and on-screen death of a homeless man, it’s the whole enchilada in less than five minutes. The best part? It’s free!
Featured Image: IMDb
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