Review by Cole Groth
Dog movies have been a staple in family dramedies for years. Plenty of classic films, like One Hundred and One Dalmatians, Lady and the Tramp, and Old Yeller, feature man's best friend. Still, as readily available subjects that don’t demand enormous paychecks to act, they’re also featured in cheap, low-quality indie films. Thus, it’s a mixed bag whenever a movie is announced to primarily feature a dog. I didn’t have high hopes going into Dog Gone, but I was pleasantly surprised with the touching story and witty writing of Netflix’s first film of 2023.
Director Stephen Herek is no stranger to dog movies, having directed the live-action 101 Dalmatians starring Glenn Close. Here, our hero dog is called Gonker, which Rob Lowe’s character of the dad aptly describes as “the worst-named dog ever,” an adorable labrador adopted by college student Fielding Marshall (Johnny Berchtold). After graduating, Fielding realizes he’s the only one of his friends without a job. After moving back in with his parents, he has to reconcile with them (Lowe and Kimberly Williams-Paisley) while navigating his way through adult life.
The plot is relatively simple, but that’s the main appeal to the families that this is targeted at. There’s some witty humor for the adults watching, and kids will find this funny, but it’s more of a heartfelt story of the lengths people will go to for their loved ones. We need these types of stories more than ever to show how connected we should be as a society. As far as the writing goes, there aren’t too many memorable lines, and the abundance of clichéd characters who assist Fielding on his journey to find Gonker is cheap.
One of the biggest complaints many will have with this movie is a lack of Gonker. It almost feels like false advertising to put the dog in the film’s title while he’s lost in the forest for most of the movie. I, however, don’t take issue with this because it allows Herek to focus on the human characters, which are easier to flesh out than a canine. Some moments focus on the mom’s relationship with her dog, which is eye-rollingly stupid, and those scenes should have been replaced with shots of Gonker finding his way home.
The production of this film is what sets it apart from other films in this genre. We’re treated to plenty of beautiful nature shots as Fielding finds out he loves nature, and it’s almost surprising how professional everything looks. Netflix ensures that all their productions use a certain camera quality to achieve consistency, and it’s nice to find a small family comedy that looks like the cinematographer was working hard. It almost makes me wish that the scope was more extensive because this could’ve been much better if it had been ambitious.
Dog Gone is a no-frills dramedy that will satisfy crowds of all ages. It won’t wow any critics, and it’s not trying to do that. You’ll be able to predict where this film goes at every turn, which makes it such an enjoyable watch. With strong performances from the leading cast and plenty of light chuckles, this adaptation of Pauls Toutonghi’s true-story is a solid start for Netflix’s slate.
Dog Gone releases on Netflix on January 13.
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