Review by Cole Groth
If I had to choose one film that was targeted at me the most, it would undoubtedly be Therapy Dogs. This indie comedy, co-written and directed by Ethan Eng, follows two high schoolers who set out to make the most of their senior year. Graduating from high school less than one year ago myself, I can confidently say that Eng has knocked it out of the park in one of the most accurate portrayals of high school yet. While the ending is a rather staunch break from the rest of the film, creating an uneven tone, the rest is excellent enough to be worthy of a watch.
Eng directs a fictional version of himself and co-writer Justin Morrice as two aimless seniors directing the movie project of their life. We follow the two teenagers searching for meaning in life through a series of slice-of-life vignettes weaved together through different camera mediums. It offers us a unique portrait of realism in high school, with plenty of the shots looking like they were ripped directly off the students’ phones.
The line between fiction and documentary is blurred because the realism of the portrayal of contemporary high school isn’t because of the script; Eng and Morrice shot guerilla-style without a permit under the guise of filming a video for the yearbook. This impressive style of filmmaking makes this much more than an extremely long YouTube video, which it almost falls into the trappings of.
Since there’s not much plot to follow, this will undoubtedly lose the attention of many older viewers. It’s crass in the ways that a drunk 16-year-old is. It’s somewhat obnoxious and loud and doesn’t have the substance to back it up at times. Thus, this film works much better as an experience than a film itself. You’d want to watch this if you wanted to relive the worst years of your teenage life. It reveals a lot about modern teenagers in a way that modern media has consistently failed.
The easiest film to compare this to would be Cooper Raiff’s directorial debut Shithouse. Ethan Eng, like Raiff, has an exceptional understanding of how to direct young subjects through realistic dialogue. While he isn’t able to recreate most of the heartfelt moments as well as Raiff could, he shows a lot of potential, making him a director to watch in the coming years.
While I was on board for most of the film, the last act wavers to a somewhat unimpressive finish. I’ll avoid spoiling this because the film works very well without the ending aside. Still, it moves from a hilarious comedy to an over-reflective melodrama with little padding in between.
At a sub-90-minute runtime, Therapy Dogs is absolutely worthy of a watch. At worst, it’s an impressive student film with some funny moments, but at best, it captures a specific feeling that will bring viewers back to their youth. Directors like Eng are the future of cinema, and this offers a bright glimpse into the films of tomorrow.
Therapy Dogs releases in theaters starting March 10th.