New to On Demand: A Dog’s Purpose

A Dog's Purpose © 2017 Universal Studios Credit: Joe Lederer

People have searched for years to find their purpose in life. Some go a lifetime without ever realizing why they are here and others are lucky enough to find that purpose at a young age. But what about dogs? Do they have a purpose? In A Dog’s Purpose, from director Lasse Hallström, we meet one such dog looking to find his purpose in life.

Bailey (voice of Josh Gad) meets young Ethan at just the right time. The dog is found sweltering in the backseat of a car. When Ethan agrees to do everything that is needed to take care of Bailey, his parents agree that the dog can become part of the family. But Bailey is more than just an animal in this house. He becomes Ethan’s friend, his confidant and the brother he never had. They do everything together and when Bailey pushes teenage Ethan (K.J. Apa) together with Hannah (Britt Robertson) at a carnival, it’s immediately clear that he even helps him get the girl.

As Ethan’s father increasingly turns to the bottle, Bailey provides Ethan with much-needed support. The dog is always listening, never criticizing, and is there to lift Ethan up.

An accident causes Ethan to make adjustments to the life he had planned, and age takes its toll on Bailey. But there are many more lives for Bailey to live and many more people to influence. Despite his impact on so many different people, Bailey still thinks of Ethan. But maybe, just maybe, they will meet again.

This film is simplistic in its efforts to tug on the hearts of its viewers. I guess to an extent, I am simplistic as well, because parts of the movie really grabbed me. I felt myself shocked as the first life transition for the dog happened in the opening two minutes of the film. But immediately I was met with the knowledge that the passing from one life to the next would be less graphic and more emotional.

I love to chat about the acting performances in a film, but the big performances here came from the dogs and Gad in his voice work. Gad finds a way to make what is going on inside of a dog’s head seem rational, even at their craziest moments. We laugh with the jokes and cry every time we lose a dog. Robertson and Apa have their own romantic chemistry, but because the story is told over three segments of Ethan’s life, they only play a part in a third of the film. A Dog’s Purpose was overly simplistic and suffered under the weight of trying to tell too many stories with a seeming lack of focus.

And yes, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the controversy. But that’s it. I’ll simply mention it. You can look it up if you want, but please remember to read both sides of the story. My review is based on what I saw on the screen.

I’ve had dogs in my lifetime and would love another one sometime soon (don’t tell my daughter just yet, though). We love our dogs and they love us. Despite the simple nature of the film, dogs remain heroes, troublemakers, counselors, stress relievers and, most of all, man’s best friend.

A Dog’s Purpose is now available On Demand. Check your cable system for availability