Film Review: ‘Dog Days’ Is Charming and Surprisingly Emotional

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In a week that has turned the film conversation toward debating whether “popular” is “award-worthy,” along comes a movie that is, much like your four-legged furkids, just happy to see you.

Dog Days” isn’t going to shift the Oscar conversation, and it doesn’t mean to. Director Ken Marino‘s latest simply wants to make you smile. It is one of those comforting movies you can sit back and watch for a couple of hours and forget about your troubles.

But it isn’t all fluff, either.

“Dog Days” is a collection of mostly unconnected stories about people living around Los Angeles. Each character’s story is defined, in part, by their relationships with their dogs.

We first meet Liz (Nina Dobrev), a morning television show host who adores her dog Sam and her boyfriend Peter (Ryan Hansen) until it turns out he’s been cheating. A bad interview with retired football player Jimmy Johnston (Tone Bell) leads to a new co-hosting situation and a possible new romance.

We also meet Tara (Vanessa Hudgens), a local barista who discovers a timid and sweet chihuahua hiding near the dumpster behind her coffee shop. Tara wiles away her days watching the cute veterinarian Doctor Mike (Michael Cassidy) across the street. She also meets Garrett (Jon Bass), the director of local dog rescue.

Walter (Ron Cephas Jones) and Tyler (Finn Wolfhard) are an old man and a teenager who pester each other until Walter’s pug, Mabel, disappears and they join forces to search for her. The generation gap is wide between these two.

Eva Longoria and Rob Corddry are Grace and Kurt, a couple finally getting to adopt a little girl (Elizabeth Phoenix Caro) after years of waiting. But it isn’t all roses and sunshine when Amelia is shy and quiet. Until Amelia finds Mr. Snuggles, a lost pug who usually answers to the name of Mabel, and the little girl comes out of her shell.

And then there is Dax (Adam Pally), the slacker younger brother of Ruth (Jessica St. Clair). Ruth and her husband Greg (Thomas Lennon) are about to have twins. But when Dax forgets about their baby shower, and havoc ensues, his penance is taking care of their space invading dog Charlie during the weeks after the babies are born.

It is all as cute as it sounds, and yet, “Dog Days” manages not to be annoying in its adorableness. It’s about as predictable as a Hallmark movie but less cheesy. Or maybe with better cheese. And there are some genuinely tender moments that explore family dynamics, grief, personal growth, and so many other life lessons and challenges.

And through it all, the one comfort everyone has is their dog. Just like in life, if you are lucky enough to have one of these crazy creatures around, you know that tough times are more bearable when they are waiting at home for you.

Elissa Matsueda and Erica Oyama wrote a script that is sure to delight. It is funny even when it is silly. Perhaps because it is silly. This is certainly not a movie that takes itself too seriously.

And yet, there are dramatic moments too. It is moving in ways both predictable and unexpected. These moments come from seeing people find ways to connect, and especially in watching the relationships characters have with their dogs. It is a bond like no other and Marino’s direction brings this to life in ways that every dog person will understand.

In addition to the principle ensemble cast, there are a few minor characters that do good things here. Tig Notaro is hilarious as a deadpan dog therapist who pops up in a couple of well-placed scenes. Jessica Lowe and Lauren Lapkus are very funny in their roles as sidekicks to Dobrev and Hudgens.

Jasmine Cephas Jones (who currently appears in “Blindspotting”) showcases her vocal talents as the lead singer of Dax’s band, Frunk. It is a cover band, and their renditions of “I’m Too Sexy,” “The Right Stuff,” and “Who Let the Dogs Out?” are surprisingly good. You never knew you needed a Right Said Fred cover until now.

“Dog Days” isn’t the kind of movie you need to rush out and see on the big screen. But it will undoubtedly be a perfect selection for a cozy weekend in. Especially if you can share the screen with your favorite pup.

“Dog Days” is distributed by LD Entertainment and is in theaters now.

GRADE: (★★★)