A Dog’s Purpose

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

A Dog's Purpose

A conversation is running through the movie world about the pros and cons of seeing A Dog’s Purpose. Naysayers tend to be people who regard themselves as too sophisticated to endure a sentimental movie devoted to dogs. Consider the alternative. Imagine a theater full of parents with children, teenagers, and adults of all ages. What happens? Ripples of laughter, sighs of appreciation, silence when tears come. My suggestion: If you have ever loved a dog, chuck your doubts and go. If you disapprove of sentimentality, just stuff it and go. Chances are you’ll love it in spite of yourself.

Five scriptwriters and director Lasse Hallstrom have created a story about a dog who moves through reincarnations in four bodies and tells us about what he learns in each life. Dogs and human actors, all of them, are thoroughly on board with the premise. In his first life, Bailey (a retriever) lives with Ethan (K.J. Apa) and also gets to know Ethan’s girlfriend Hannah (Britt Robertson). His second unfolds as a German shepherd mastered by a lone policeman (John Ortiz). In his third, he is a Corgi, and his fourth – well, you’ll find out about that one. You’ll love Dennis Quaid and Peggy Lipton who create two people who have suffered without ever surrendering their dreams.

We listen to animal and human thoughts through Bailey’s four lives and we learn with great pleasure and sometimes with sadness about the interplay between them. How does each change the life of the other and what goes on while they are together. If you are a dog lover, you will love watching what Bailey, in his four selves, teaches people and what they teach him.

Much of the fun comes from sharing the movie with an audience made up of many ages. Loving a dog at some time in your life is a warm common bond. Credit an enormous number of people for making that happen. Director, cast, the dogs, and perhaps most of all, those five scriptwriters who do a terrific job on the dialogue of the dogs and their masters. All of it unfolds to a just right score assembled by music supervisor Gedney Webb.

We root for Bailey as he adjusts to life with each of his new masters. He analyzes them for us in short, often comical judgements. He is a dog looking for the purpose of his life through several lifetimes and several owners. Will there be a next round for us? If you’ve loved a dog, or loved and lost one, you’ll be happy to smile a lot, cry a little and you’ll be especially grateful to Director Lasse Hallstrom for making that happen. C’mon people, abandon your sophisticated self and enjoy the story of one fine dog working his way through several lives while looking for his purpose. There aren’t many times when you can sit in an audience of all ages that finds a movie irresistible. Try it.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : A Dog’s Purpose
Word Count : 496
Running time: 1:40
Rating : PG
Date : February 5, 2017


20th Century Woman

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

20th Century Women

When you decide to see 20th Century Women, don’t look for a story. You will find instead an unconnected series of anecdotes in the lives of three women and one young boy passing from childhood into his teenage years. There are no villains here, just five characters searching for their identities in the 1970s. If the lack of narrative creates confusion, be assured the actors deliver interesting people.

Dorothea (Annette Benning) is the single mother of Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) who has moved from boy to teen while being befriended by two young women who rent rooms from his mother. That would be Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and Julie (Elle Fanning). Dorothea looks to them for help in raising her son. The only adult male in the picture is the ever present William (Billly Crudup) who is comfortable with all of them.

The movie unfurls in the 1970s when Californians roll around in a culture that celebrates personal freedom. It is hard at any age to figure out who we are in a culture that asks and expects nothing of us. Easier by far in one that has rules that make the choice of submission or rebellion a simpler one. Dorothea looks to the two boarders to help with Jamie, and whenever she is shocked by Abbie and Julia’s behavior, she soaks it up and moves on. Dorothea rolls with all the revelations and remains just as confused about life’s expectations as they are.

Flame haired Abbie is experimenting with everything as fast as she can find things to try. She searches for answers through music, clothing, and over the top behavior. Julia, just the opposite of her housemate, retreats. She looks more conventional but is emotionally at sea. Jamie loves his mom but, in her guilt at not having a father for him, she injects influences that confuse him as he grows. All are loyal to Dorothea who offers no guidelines.

The question for all: “Who am I?” Each actor builds a character focused on that question and each does it well. That focus falls eventually on Jamie and Dorothea – a sweet teenager and his confused mother. Lucas Jade Zumann is thoroughly winning as Jamie, the teenager with the best intentions who tries, against his nature, to grow up fast with little advice from anyone. The results of his timid step into wild waters evoke only our sympathy.

Annette Benning makes Dorothea a mother drowning in confusion while giving little guidance to anyone. Hers is a household running without leadership. At 55 in 1979, she is adrift in a time before cultural change asked and answered the questions women had about roles and identity. Even in the atmosphere of California cool, Dorothea is emotionally alone in a state of the same befuddlement as the rest of her household. Can an appealing cast carry the day when not one of them has been able to make life choices? That’s for you to decide.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : 20th Century Women
Word Count : 498
Running time: 1:59
Rating : R
Date : 29 January 2017


This review was posted on January 29, 2017, in Comedy, Drama.