Dog Gone Movie Review: An average pet rescue film that could have gone beyond ordinary
Had the writing been less cliché, this film of sporadic feel-good moments, may have tipped over to above average territory
Based on Pauls Toutonghi’s book of the same name, Dog Gone details the true story of a beloved Labrador who goes missing from his home in the Appalachian trail. Though it has its endearing parts, the narrative feels too commonplace – like a version of something you’ve definitely seen before, in one capacity or another. The general tropes, the emotions associated with a deep animal-human bond, the strained father-son relationship that is put to the test owing to ensuing events, they’re all a bit predictable. That being said, the cast does an earnest job under the limiting circumstances.
Dog Gone begins with Fielding (Johnny Berchtold) at college. He is a likable character ambivalent about his future prospects. Following a break up, he adopts a dog on a whim. His best friend reminds him that having a pet requires responsibility and dedication - qualities he seemingly fails to possess. He pays no heed to the advice. The Labrador pup is christened Gonker after he excitedly gonks Fielding on the chin at a house party.
Director – Stephen Herek
Cast – Rob Lowe, Johnny Berchtold, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Nick Peine
Streaming On – Netflix
Months pass as the duo becomes inseparable. His parents visit him for graduation and realise, to their chagrin, that their son has adopted a dog. His father, John (Rob Lowe), asks him pointed questions about his subsequent plans. Fielding moves back home with Gonker, still in the process of figuring things out. Gonker wins the household over quickly, with his mother being reminded of her beloved dog from childhood. With dwindling faith from the parents, Fielding is convinced that Gonker is the only being who truly understands him as an individual. When the dog is diagnosed with Addison’s disease, the doctors tell the family that his monthly medication is paramount for survival. Everything goes well until Fielding’s best friend comes visiting. They go hiking in the Appalachian trail, where Gonker chases after a fox and doesn’t return despite repeated calls.
There are moments in Dog Gone that are intended to fill your heart with the same fullness that a furry friend exhibiting unconditional love would. And that may be reason enough for a pet parent or animal lover to watch the film. The only problem is that it comes off as too simplistic. There have been a host of pet rescue projects in the past, and this particular one isn’t able to distinguish itself in any significant way. There are other elements added to the primary narrative to make it feel whole. For instance, the strained relationship between father and son, with the former attempting to understand his boy at a deeper level and thereby rid himself of preconceived notions. And, Ginny (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) being transported to her dysfunctional childhood, where her dog forms the only good memory. These examples attempt to provide heft to the writing, no doubt, but are handled in an average manner. While we understand that it is based on true events, some things could have been changed to better the overall aesthetic. Fictionalising the real just that little bit does succeed in telling a more engaging tale. Moments of “aww look at those two and their unshakeable bond” can only further the story so much. Deeper layers ought to have been included for better engagement.
Fielding’s issues (the need for parental acceptance, understanding and respect) are key and John is forced to dig deep to make sense of his son’s unconventional choices. A scene that involves the latter interacting with young adults on a camping trail (kids figuring out their own path in a world that champions conformity) is a good one. Another part that works in Dog Gone’s favour is Fielding’s inability to open up to his folks about his physical problems. The complex parent-child relationship is dealt with rather simplistically, except in a handful of aforementioned circumstances. Once the enthusiastic Gonker runs into the woods for the extensive search to commence, the idea of hope doesn’t dim. John assures Fielding and his wife that they will definitely find their dog. Even in the bleakest of times, he responds to the question of “How can you be so sure?” with “Because I believe it.” The operation, which initially begins with fliers and social media posts, quickly goes viral, with news agencies, state rangers, police departments, animal rescue organisations and concerned citizens the world over getting involved. It’s nice to know that man can band together when its best friend gets lost.
All things considered, Dog Gone ought to have been a better effort. Had the writing been less cliché, this film of sporadic feel-good moments, may have tipped over to above-average territory. Beyond those who would sit through it just to see a lively pooch bound towards you (and root for his immediate rescue), it may not have all that many takers. One watch, maybe. And a big maybe, at that.