- Katie Bell
Dog Gone (2023)
When I first saw the title Dog Gone, it was without pictures or trailers, and so I got really hyped for a doggone saloon western film. Turns out Dog Gone is about a literal dog, that is literally gone. Doggone disappointing if you ask me...but really, I have no one to blame but myself.
This film, with mild themes and scary scenes, is based on true events and the book of the same name. We kick things off at Virginia University, where Fielding (Johnny Berchtold) and his best friend Nate (Nick Peine) watch on, as a girl who previously dumped Fielding, lolls about on the lawn with her new beau. Fielding is sad, and he's looking to fill the hole in his heart. Enter Gonker. Fielding sees Gonker and after a brief, "What's up, Pup?" and about 10 seconds of interaction, Fielding says, "I love him...and he loves me". Fielding is Romeo, everyone. Gonker is Juliet. The ex-girlfriend is Rosaline. This whole film makes sense to me now. Shortly thereafter, Gonker is in the car and decides to pee on Nate's lap. "I hate you," says Nate to Fielding. "You love me," says Fielding back. Less than five minutes into this film and what have we learned? Fielding loves love, but hasn't the foggiest idea what it actually is.
Then what happens? Well we have a montage of Gonker and Fielding's time at college, which includes several shots of Gonker and Fielding doing yoga, or rather, doing downward dog repeatedly.
After Gonker has grown up, and has broken the fourth wall at least once...
Fielding's parents rock up, to watch him graduate. Only they don't, because he misses his own graduation because he slept by the river and talked to frogs and overslept? Anyway, none of this matters. Fielding and Gonker are done with college and they are moving back to McLean, Virginia to live with Fielding's parents who are skeptical about dog ownership. They give Fielding a pretty hard time about his choice to own a dog, until they get to know Gonker themselves. Then there's a 10-second sequence where Rob Lowe wears a white tee and jeans and plays with Gonker on the back lawn. To be fair, it's part of a montage, but it very much looks like a weird family photoshoot set-up...and I can't help but think that Rob Lowe was like, "Guys, just film me playing with the dog. Go!" Ah well, the point is: Fielding's parents love Gonker now.
Anyway, shortly after Gonker settles into his new home, he becomes quite ill. Cut to the most dramatic veterinarian scene I have ever encountered. Fielding, Mum and Rob Lowe run in slow motion to the vet. Fielding is holding Gonker's limp body in his arms. The vet staff (still in slow motion) roll out a gurney. Gonker is placed onto the gurney and wheeled away, whilst his family stand in the entranceway in shock. Hard cut to an IV drip and the camera pans down to Gonker who has his eyes closed. His family look on from behind a glass wall, whilst a vet in a lab coat explains that Gonker has Addison's disease. This condition requires him to take medication once a month, in order to stay alive. It's like the filmmakers took all of the tropes from a hospital drama and applied them to an emergency vet visit.
Anyway, Gonker takes his medication and all is well for a while. Until he chases a fox on the Appalachian Trail and goes on an unplanned hike. The dog is now gone. Guys...dog is gone. Dog Gone. #Hodor
The rest of the film, as I'm sure you might have guessed, is about finding Gonker before the time runs out...
Now look, there are plenty of reasons to like this film. But mostly, dog:
However, in my opinion, there are a few more reasons not to watch...first of all, the dialogue isn't a good time. Everything just sounds slightly off-kilter. I've already discussed the numerous professions of love within the first five minutes. Additionally though, when Fielding's parents find out about his pet adoption, Mum says, "Look son, you're about to head out into the real world. You're not going to have any real time to spend with Gonker. And what's he going to do when you're at work all day?" Okay, to be fair, maybe this has more to do with mum's character than the dialogue itself. But...does she think that all pet owners are unemployed or retired or children? So odd. She also offers to "reimburse" someone for posting an ad in the paper. But that's not reimbursing, that's purchasing ad space. Get it together, Mum! Finally, when Gonker goes missing, Fielding has a slightly dusty face. Maybe it's bruised? I couldn't see anything, but he says that he "fell down a ravine" looking for Gonker. I don't know about you, but when I think "ravine", I think:
Yeah, I hear you. These aren't the worst examples of dialogue. Perhaps I am being too harsh, because comparative to The Room, Dog Gone is doing quite well. However, I'd argue that it isn't great. 10/10 for the dad jokes, though. They are top notch.
Another reason not to watch is that, despite the filmmakers' best efforts, I just don’t find Fielding to be a hugely sympathetic character. He is super moody, pretty much all of the time. He also has a large spate of selfish habits, such as waking up at 5am to engage in deep breathing with his dog. It wakes up everyone else in the house, but Fielding doesn’t care because yoga and breathing are important.
Also, he’s unemployed. Which isn’t a reason not to like someone, but his main reason for unemployment seems to be that he doesn‘t want a job? Or he does, but not a mainstream job. Like he wants to kayak for a living. That’s cool, Fielding. Put a resume in...but he doesn’t. And he is all like, “You don’t understand me, Dad” (**not actual dialogue - more like the vibe for 90 minutes) because Rob Lowe wants him to put in a resume. It’s hard to watch. I don’t hate unemployed people. But I do find it challenging to empathise with a protagonist who lives rent free with his parents, plays with his dog and does yoga all day, and then gets mad at his dad for insinuating that employment is a good idea. Get a job, Fielding. Any job. Live your best life and get that kayaking job. But don’t be mad at your parents for encouraging you to live independently after college. Sure, to be fair, Rob Lowe doesn't want Fielding in a job where he can't make a living, but he makes it pretty clear that he'd just like Fielding to have some kind of employment, even if it is employment that he perceives to be marginally disappointing. By the way, the reason Fielding loves Gonker so much? Because Gonker loves him for who he is, doggonit! I.E. Gonker doesn't pressure him to get a job. So yeah…It's kind of hard to like Fielding...and at this point, I feel a need to apologise to the real Fielding...because this is based on true events after all...
Pictured: Just Fielding being Fielding…but at a reasonable age.
Now, anyone who has read my reviews, knows that I am a sucker for a flashback. I can view an objectively terrible film, but somehow be tricked into believing that it is brilliant, because there is some kind of glimpse into the past. Well…not this time! We get a flashback, and by golly this may be the most confusing flashback I’ve ever seen. I’ll try to explain it here. SPOILER ALERT! Mum had a dog when she was a kid. His name was Oji. She seemingly acquired this dog "for her family's hospitality" while some Japanese men in suits were visiting their house. They presented her the dog in a box and she reacts by saying, "I love him" (it must be genetic). Her dad is wearing a military uniform and her mum is holding a bunch of flowers. Dad gives her permission to play with Oji "50 metres in either direction". And that's it. That's the flashback. This may be the only time in my life, when a flashback intended to add insightful context, actually gave me more questions than answers. Literally, what is actually happening, here? Who are the Japanese men in suits? Why do they have a dog in a box? How long was the dog in a box? Why did they bring a dog all the way from Japan? They literally say, "A bit of Japan, that I can leave behind". Unless it's because it's an akita which is a Japanese dog breed...Maybe they actually purchased the dog in the United States. I don’t know. Why were they visiting the family home in the first place? No idea. Actually, this flashback may be so bad, that you should intentionally watch the film. Maybe you can make sense of it? Send the Inconceivable! Team a message on our social media channels if you can. I am probably missing some critical piece of American history that would help to make this make sense. I’m very intrigued...
It seems this flashback is important though, because it leads to a whole moment between Rob Lowe and Mum, where Rob Lowe gets to say, “Gonker is not Oji”. And Mum gets to dramatically say, “It’s happening all over again”. The drama is real, people! Also, there are more Oji flashbacks, but the rest are a little simpler and provide more answers than questions.
This isn't a film that I’d recommend. Unless you absolutely love dogs…and realistically, this isn't a film for dog lovers, because it's about a dog that is gone. But if you like dad jokes, tie dye or Rob Lowe singing Rhinestone Cowboy to a dog, before it goes on a hike, then this is definitely the film for you, and you can find it on Netflix!