Dog Days

They’re over, apparently

Comic actor Ken Marino is best known for his work with director David Wain, namely his recurring role throughout the delightfully surreal Wet Hot American Summer franchise. Although Dog Days looks like a cheap, emotionally manipulative tearjerker for canine lovers, seeing his director’s credit offers a glimmer of hope – the chance that this might do to the post-Marley and Me wave of dog movies what Wet Hot American Summer did for the 80s wave of summer camp coming of age movies. Alas, such a surreal comic oddity is nowhere to be found within Dog Days, making it not entirely clear as to why he was drawn to the material; he’s a notable character actor in the comedy world, which explains why he can get respected performers like Tig Notaro to swallow their pride and slum it in supporting roles.

This is Marino’s second directorial effort, following last year’s financially successful romcom How to Be a Latin Lover, which bypassed UK cinemas entirely. Despite becoming something of an auteur in the low budget romantic comedy world, his film shows very little comic identity of its own; an awkward blend of Nancy Meyers romcom tropes, and the dying breaths of post-Judd Apatow humour that has had its edges softened for family consumption. It’s not that Dog Days is without laughs – Marino is a seasoned comedy performer, so he knows how to get amusing line readings from his cast throughout. But there’s only so much they can do in order to sell an overly saccharine screenplay, with the end result being a film that is only bypassing cinemas before it achieves its true destiny of being an in-flight movie.

In a cheap copy of the Magnolia formula, we follow various intersecting narrative strands taking place across Los Angeles, all of which are related to dogs in one way or another – although here, that formula is less Love, Actually and more Woof, Actually. In no particular order, we have; a waitress (Vanessa Hudgens) who finds a sick puppy and ends up volunteering at a nearby animal shelter, a morning TV presenter who finds a friendship with a particularly aggravating guest due to the blossoming friendship of their dogs, a couple whose adopted daughter only begins to open up after finding a dog, an elderly man befriending a 16-year-old on his quest to find his missing dog, and a slacker musician taking care of his sister’s dog as she’s too stressed after giving birth to twins.

There are no surprises in how any of these plots work themselves out, or find themselves intersecting with each other. It’s a film that plays out exactly as you expect it to, with the only surprise being the lack of any dog deaths. It’s a rare dog movie that wants to provoke hysterical audience crying via the lives of the dog owners, and not the tribulations of the pets themselves. The advertising campaign is pitched entirely to dog owners, with the UK poster just being a snapshot of different pets staring towards the viewer. In actuality, the dogs are essentially a forced narrative McGuffin, to get various family and relationship dramas to work in tandem – because otherwise, we’re just retreading on the same broadly melodramatic meditations on love and loss as many a romantic ensemble comedy.

In a way, Dog Days is exactly the type of film that appears to be “critic proof” as it plays entirely within the confines of genre expectations. But when that formula feels as tired and predictable as it does here, even the softest of hearts will only be shedding a tear at infrequent intervals, and likely feeling guilty due to the overbearing sweetness of it all. There are undeniably moments of comedy (largely within the dog sitting storyline, even though it’ll leave you wishing the new parents were the focus instead of the clueless brother), and even the overly saccharine moments have been given a slightly new polish, albeit one that doesn’t tone down their predictability.

Alistair Ryder

Updated: Aug 10, 2018

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