Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Rated PG, 112 minutes
Directed by: Ken Marino
Starring: Nina Dobrev, Vanessa Hudgens, Finn Wolfhard, Eva Longoria, Tone Bell, Adam Pally, Ron Cephas Jones, Jon Bass, Thomas Lennon, Rob Corddry, Jessica St. Clair, Elizabeth Phoenix Caro, Michael Cassidy, Phoebe Neidhardt
Strong word of warning: director Ken Marino’s DOG DAYS will make you weep. How hard, and for how long, will be entirely dependent on the person. My own public waterworks display lasted almost the entirety of the third act.
What probably started off as a parody of Garry Marshall’s schmaltzy, sprawling, ensemble-driven fare has turned into a “bone”-a fide, genuinely good movie about the enrichment dog-ownership brings to people’s lives. Not only is it really funny, the beating heart of its sweet sentiments is completely disarming, moving and heartwarming.
The narrative, courtesy of screenwriters Elissa Matsueda and Erica Oyama, weaves together five tales (tails?) set across the different neighborhoods of a warm, sun-lit Los Angeles. Uptight morning show host Liz (Nina Dobrev) and relaxed former football player Jimmy’s (Tone Bell) temperaments are seemingly mismatched, but fate (in the form of a live segment gone wrong) has pushed them together. Their doggos even take a liking to each other before their humans do. Meanwhile, well-read barista Tara (Vanessa Hudgens) longs for a greater purpose when she finds a tiny stray chihuahua hiding behind a dumpster. She meets rescue shelter owner Garrett (Jon Bass), who’s been harboring a crush on her despite her heart being set on hot vet Dr. Mike (Michael Cassidy). Further across town is slacker musician Dax (Adam Pally, who delivers the best toss-away gag involving EXIT TO EDEN), who’s recently been given his pregnant sister’s demanding dog Charlie as his temporary charge. Then there’s widower Walter (Ron Cephas Jones), whose pudgy pug Mabel goes missing, and smart-ass pizza delivery boy Tyler (Finn Wolfhard), who volunteers to help find her. And finally, Kurt (Rob Corddry) and Grace (Eva Longoria) are a pair of nerve-wracked parents to their newly adopted, ultra-shy young daughter Amelia (Elizabeth Phoenix Caro). Things change when Amelia finds Mabel wandering the streets downtown, and it brings her out of her shell.
Marino knows the strengths of his supporting players as well as his main cast, who are legit terrific. Tig Notaro as “Danielle” the doggie therapist is a scene-stealer. Her character qualifies for the comedy rule of threes. Jessica St. Clair and Thomas Lennon playing Dax’s moderately insufferable sister and brother-in-law/ exhausted new parents are gold. They commit to a great bit about the SCHINDLER’S LIST soundtrack mistakenly playing at their baby shower. David Wain’s low-key clown and Phoebe Neidhardt’s weather girl also turn in some fine work.
However, what really solidifies things are the truly touching, tender moments – something that’s remained hidden from all those advertisements that make this look like a light, vapid romcom. Though it does fall in line with the genre, it’s far from being basic or hollow. Dynamic interpersonal relationships – like Kurt and Grace’s parental relationship with Amelia, the unlikely friendship between Walter and Tyler, and Walter’s companionship with Mabel – are fully fleshed out. Some of the highlights that hit the hardest are dialogue-driven and sold by the performances of the actors. What’s stated is meaningful, deeply affecting and bound to resonate with a dog-loving audience – maybe moreso than films that share a similar vibe like A DOG’S PURPOSE.
Dog owners are going to immediately fall head over heels in love with this movie as it speaks to the joyous highs and unavoidable lows of dog ownership. Welcomed gratuitous close-ups of the adorable dogs increase the attractiveness, for sure, but there’s a hearty dose of pro-adoption sentiment that also makes it easy to love. Our four-legged friends enrich our lives immeasurably, and although the human hijinks take center stage, this is a love letter to our furry besties.
DOG DAYS opens on August 8.