Well, this is it folks. It’s been real, but this is my last movie review for Pajiba. Because I quit. A Dog’s Way Home broke me, and I honestly don’t know where to even go from here. I need a hug and a stiff drink and a long nap and maybe a light case of amnesia. Seriously: F*ck this movie, and f*ck TK for doing this to me.
If you’ve seen the trailer for A Dog’s Way Home, based on a novel by A Dog’s Purpose author W. Bruce Cameron, then you already know what’s going to happen: A very good dog gets lost and then goes through hell to make her way back to her owner.
And that’s it. That’s exactly what happens. But the devil’s in the details, and the details of this movie are basically a bunch of cynically manipulative, gut-wrenching scenarios that will do a Gallagher number on your juicy watermelon heart. Because that’s the thing: This movie is about as subtle as a prop comic who only makes himself laugh, while you huddle under your plastic poncho wiping seeds out of your eyes. Or a brain surgeon going to town on your amygdala with a chainsaw. Or a flying kick to your teeth.
All of which is to say that yeah, this movie is blunt as hell — but it’s still effective. I cried within the first 3 minutes, when animal control officers raid a dilapidated property and capture a bunch of strays — including the mother of our main puppy, Bella, leaving her to be raised by a cat. And then I cried intermittently through the rest of the film, including a solid 30 minutes of sobs through the conclusion. So if you’re in the market for emotional relief in the form of a good cry, then this movie just might be for you. But beyond that, I don’t know who the audience for this film should be. Sociopaths, I guess? Because it sure as sh*t ain’t a family film. I can’t imagine any child watching Bella’s journey and not being traumatized along the way.
Part of that is down to the star-power of Bella herself, voiced by Bryce Dallas Howard and portrayed by a rescued pit bull mix named Shelby. And seriously, this dog is absolutely incredible. Like, hands down the best part of the movie, and honestly could out-perform whoever ends up nominated for the acting Oscars next year. Just give Shelby all the awards, and also a biscuit. It’s impossible not to love her, and worry about her, and root for her — and that’s what makes it so hard to watch her suffer.
The rest of the cast is perfectly fine as well, even if they do function as nothing more than fancy set dressing around Shelby. Jonah Hauer-King plays Bella’s charmingly dimpled master, Lucas, while Ashley Judd plays his war veteran mother and Alexandra Shipp plays his girlfriend, Olivia. And as one of the few PoC in the film, it’s up to Shipp to underscore the root of all Bella’s problems: Denver’s pit bull ban. “That’s basically racism for dogs,” she exclaims at one point, probably because having the white guy say it would have lessened the impact. So Bella is packed off to Olivia’s aunt’s house in New Mexico, to wait while Lucas looks for a place to live outside of the Denver city limits. And Bella, being a VERY GOOD GIRL, decides to make her way home again, in what turns into a 2.5 year nightmare slog of danger, starvation, and unlikely friendships.
And here’s the big damn SPOILER ALERT, because I’m gonna lay out some of the specific things Bella endures in her trek, just in case you’re still thinking this might be a fun time for you.
— Bella witnesses hunters shooting a cougar, then turns around and discovers the cougar’s now-orphaned kitten-cougar baby. So Bella, being a VERY GOOD GIRL, raises the baby as her own. There is a lot of huddling together for warmth in the cold.
— Baby Cougar grows into a terrifying CGI beefcake monstrosity, who saves Bella when she’s being MAULED BY F*CKING COYOTES.
— Bella roots through garbage and steals food from picnics and grocery stores, because duh — SHE’S F*CKING STARVING ALL THE TIME.
— Bella is involved in an avalanche and helps dig Chris Bauer (Andy Bellefleur from True Blood!) from the snow. He winds up in traction, so a gay couple take care of his dog (and Bella as well, thinking she’s his dog too). When they go to return the dogs to Bauer… he says he doesn’t know Bella and doesn’t want his own dog back either. And y’all, the look on his dog’s face as the couple drags it from his side is HEARTBREAKING. People are assholes.
— Bella meets Edward James Olmos, who is a homeless vet. He uses her to make money on the street, but he’s old and sick and keeps her tied up so she won’t leave his side. And when he catches her trying to chew through her rope, he chains her to his waist… AND THEN DIES. So Bella almost starves to death next to dead Admiral Adama.
— Then two boys ride up on bikes and release Bella, only to turn around and realize she was chained to a dead f*cking body. So the kids are traumatized in what I’m assuming is a nod to Stand By Me.
— Oh, and when Bella finally gets to Denver, she tries to run across a freeway… AND GETS HIT BY A CAR. Then she LIMPS THE REST OF THE WAY HOME.
In conclusion: just get yourself your own dog instead! And if you already have a dog, go give it a hug. Treat it well. Love it and never let it leave your side for a moment. Because if I find out any of you f*ckers put your dog through what Bella suffered, I will hunt you down and go full-Liam Neeson on your asses.
Header Image Source: Sony Pictures Entertainment