Film Review: Dog Days

This contemporary, unassuming rom-com about a scattershot group of L.A. dog owners and their best friends should fetch some young fans and those who roll over for anything canine-related.
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With its unabashedly sunny and upbeat Dog Days, LD Entertainment (The Zookeeper's Wife, Jackie, etc.) tosses moviegoers—those of the Gen-Z and Millennial breeds and easy-to-please, dog-loving mutts—a sweet, digestible cinematic treat. This ensemble exercise pushes not a single envelope as it follows the reliable template of throwing together a handful of dog-friendly people who don’t know one another initially until circumstances lead to paths crossed and lives better lived.

The canine players here are a delight to watch, especially an overweight rascal pug named Mabel, a big floppy mutt named Charlie and an unbearably cute little helmet-wearing Chihuahua named Gertrude. But actor/director Ken Marino (How to Be a Latin Lover), aided by the screenwriters, doesn’t let the dogs hog the whole show.

Chirpy morning-TV personality Elizabeth (Nina Dobrev) deals with humorless dog therapist Danielle (comedienne Tig Notaro) on concerns relating to her unhappy dog Sammy, who merely seeks a doggie playmate. On the strictly human front, she is recovering from a breakup and being thrown together with new co-host Jimmy (Tone Bell), a handsome former NFL star.

Spunky barista Tara (Vanessa Hudgens) forms a crush on slick, hunky vet Dr. Mike (Michael Cassidy), but, restless with energy and ambition, gives up her Chihuahua Gertrude for adoption at the struggling New Tricks Dog Rescue. The center’s owner Garrett (Jon Bass), in turn, develops a crush on Tara, who will become his savior, if not more, when she produces a fundraiser in Griffith Park that may save his rescue outfit.

Meanwhile, aspiring rocker Dax (Adam Pally), a man-child in a sloppy loft overrun with junk food, becomes the reluctant caretaker of big mischievous mutt Charlie, when Charlie’s owners Ruth (Jessica St. Clair), Dax’s sister, and her do-nothing husband Greg (Thomas Lennon) become new parents to twins.

Also ensemble-ing here are Grace (Eva Longoria) and Kurt (Rob Corddry), a loving, caring couple who have just adopted eight-year-old Amelia (Elizabeth Caro). Amelia, shunning the many big stuffed animals bought for her, seems lost in her new environs as the couple try futilely to make her feel comfortable. Like a miracle, the girl springs to life when the three encounter lost, chubby pug Mabel and bring her home.

But Walter (Ron Cephas Jones of TV’s “This Is Us”), an elderly widower and former college professor, grieves over Mabel’s disappearance after she ran away while he was walking her unleashed on the city streets. Pizza delivery guy Tyler (Finn Wolfhard), a teen struggling at school who was there when Mabel bolted, helps Walter with the hunt; the two bond and Walter becomes Tyler’s tutor.

No spoiler here that all unfolds with twists and complications but lands in a colorful kibble bowl of happy endings. Surprise does lie in the fact that such familiar material can deliver some unexpected pleasures. And, yes, we dog lovers can be suckers for this kind of stuff.

But there are quibbles regarding the way the film deals so nonchalantly (and even in an attempt for laughs) with some very bad dog-owner behavior: walking a dog unleashed where cars frequently pass, confining a pet in a seemingly cruel way, or leaving tons of junk or pot-enhanced foods carelessly around so dogs can pounce and pay the consequences.

If Dog Days lapses and pushes no envelopes in the art of filmmaking, it does notch show points for its efforts to convey the importance of dogs to people’s lives and vice versa and why efforts to find homes for canines deserve our full support and attention. Dog Days won’t save cinema, but it may help save some dogs in need.