Karissa Schaefer ‘23 / Emertainment Monthly TV Section Editor
For the past few months, Dog has been highly anticipated by dog-lovers everywhere. It’s not everyday that a movie’s main subject is a dog. But don’t be fooled—this is no Marley and Me. Sure, the Belgian Shepherd they use to play Lulu—otherwise known as “Dog”—is cute, but unlike Marley and Me, the storyline is meandering and disconnected.
The movie opened with a montage of clippings from Lulu’s book, one put together by the army Lulu was trained in. It plays a key part in explaining her background through exposition– a small, neat, and cute addition to show all the heroic things she’s done and soldiers’ gratitude for her. Plus, the soundtrack is filled with head-swayers, following an Americana theme, which fits well with the road trip plot.
The story follows Army Ranger Briggs (Channing Tatum) who is tasked with taking Lulu down the Pacific Coast to Lulu’s old handler’s funeral at the request of the handler’s family. Lulu’s old handler and Briggs’ fellow ranger, Riley Rodriguez is revealed to be dead in the first 10 minutes. Setting off the movie’s main plot, Briggs is instantly jumped by Lulu when he approaches her in her cage. This establishes the added layer of Lulu’s anxiety, constantly on alert from the trauma she experienced in war. It makes the audience empathize with the dog, bringing an added layer of human emotion to a not so human character. It’s also worth mentioning that the movie is called Dog because Briggs uses that to refer to Lulu, basically refusing to call her by her name until one of the last scenes.
As director and producer, Tatum took inspiration from his personal experiences with his own departed dog, which made the premise of the movie even more heartwarming. Shot in Valencia and Lancaster, California, there are many scenic shots of the ocean and mountainscapes, adding to the breezy ambience of the film.
Although it is a beautifully shot movie, Dog included several unnecessary scenes. As a road trip movie, the story is stretched out over a span of a few days, yet because Briggs made so many stops, it seemed like the trip was never ending. One particular scene that seemed out of place and unnecessary had Briggs follow a lesbian couple to their house. However, this scene turns out to be awkwardly funny as Briggs catches the couple in an intimate moment. Briggs gets distracted by Lulu’s barking and goes to check on her, when she jumps out and chases someone who tried to save her from being locked in the car. Further, there are several aimless storylines like this that are only briefly touched upon, lacking any real depth. In fact, the main story got completely lost within all the little stories. It’s easy for people watching to lose focus on the fact that they’re going to a funeral for someone both Briggs and Lulu were close to because they take their time doing silly things.
The movie was also far too predictable. It followed the same A+B story structure in every scene– there would be a similar action then reaction in practically every new location. Also, before even seeing the movie, the audience can guess that the dog will end up as Briggs’ companion, following enemies to friends storyline as he started out ambivalent and grew increasingly more attached.
One scene started out very odd, but ended up turning into maybe one of the best parts of the movie. At one point, Lulu gets loose and runs for the woods, with Briggs chasing after her. He stumbles upon a weed farm, where the owner of the farm shoots him with a tranquilizer. He wakes up tied to a chair, still loopy, calling out for Lulu who is nowhere to be found. Thinking he’s being threatened, owner Gus (Kevin Nash) leaves Briggs there after pushing the chair over. Using his military skills, Briggs gets free pretty fast and continues on into Gus’ house, where he finds Lulu with Gus and his wife Tamara (Jane Adams). Briggs is amazed at how Tamara is able to get Lulu to listen and eat out of her hand. Suddenly, the husband and wife are friendly to Briggs as Tamara fixes Lulu’s injured paw. The good part came when Briggs bonds outside with Gus, showing him Lulu’s book. They joke a lot, making for a funny, yet heartwarming scene. Before Lulu and Briggs leave, Briggs is surprised to find that Tamara is some kind of psychic, as she channels Briggs’ young daughter.
One plotline that was not fleshed out enough was the story revolving around Briggs’ daughter and his apparent estranged relationship with her and her mom. At one point, he makes a pit stop at their house, bringing a stuffed unicorn that they don’t end up accepting. In fact, he’s shut out within only a couple of minutes. When he returns to the car, he tosses the unicorn to Lulu and never explains what happened. The idea isn’t revisited until the ending montage when he goes back and is actually let in. Even then, nothing is explained. For background, the audience knows Briggs suffers from a brain injury from his time serving overseas, so it can be assumed this has something to do with their family problems. Nevertheless, a straight answer would’ve enhanced the plot because otherwise it seems like an insignificant detail, needlessly added to a movie already chalk-full of needless details.
Another interesting part is the segment after visiting Briggs’ family, when they go visit Lulu’s brother, who also happens to be an ex-war dog. Upon meeting his owner (Ethan Suplee), they have heartfelt conversations and special dialogue, with the owner giving some sound advice, being a fellow dog handler and ex-military. One good thing about this movie is the dialogue, which is simple but meaningful. The owner speaks about his dog almost as if he is a God-like figure, someone he can talk to that will lovingly listen. This mirrors what Briggs has been doing the whole time, having full conversations with Lulu, building their relationship.
Another piece of important dialogue comes from Riley’s letter to Lulu, left in her book, stating “I was never your handler, but you were actually mine.” This really drives home the themes of dogs being man’s best friend, a loyal companion they can lean on. This comes true for Briggs as the movie progresses, as the movie ends with him writing his own letter for Lulu. Another sweet moment is where Lulu comforts Briggs when he has a medical episode on the floor of their hotel. The emotional moments continue into the funeral; however, this time, the roles are reversed. Lulu lays under a wreath of flowers on top of Riley’s boots, noticeably sad. Briggs comforts her, trying to relax her as the guns go off for the military funeral ceremony. An important detail throughout the film is how loud noises make Lulu anxious, and this is the first time she doesn’t react crazily, emphasizing the comfort that Briggs brings her.
Though the plot felt convoluted and messy, there were still occasional meaningful and funny moments. Both Briggs and Lulu grow throughout the film, but more importantly, they grow together. Lulu’s brother’s owner said he figured it was time to stop suffering when his dog stopped suffering. The same can be said about Briggs and Lulu.