REVIEW: Dog Gone (2023)

Johnny Berchtold’s ‘Fielding Marshall’ with ‘Gonker’ in DOG GONE — PHOTO: Netflix / Bob Mahoney.

Directed by Stephen Herek — Screenplay by Nick Santora.

Inspired by a book by Pauls Toutonghi and the true story that it was based on, Stephen Herek’s Dog Gone follows a father (John Marshall, played by Rob Lowe) and a son (Fielding Marshall, played by Johnny Berchtold) as they search desperately on the Appalachian Trail for the son’s missing dog named Gonker. It is a race against time, as Gonker has been diagnosed with Addison’s disease, which requires him to have a life-saving shot every month. As the family (including the mother, Ginny Marshall, played by Kimberly Williams-Paisley) tries to reach out to others for help, they are surprised to find out exactly how many people can relate to their situation and are desperate to help.

Here’s the thing about this movie. Yes, this is absolutely a mostly generic, cheaply made, and melodramatic movie (with a certain subplot that feels like it is there to stretch out the runtime to feature length) that feels more like a random soon-to-be-forgotten streaming release than anything special. But, I must say that at the same time, I think it is a really sweet and good-hearted movie with simple goals. It wants to highlight how important dogs are to us, how the human connection to man’s best friend is universal, and that dogs can provide comfort when the lonely and lost are in desperate need of connection.

Although it becomes rather repetitive, predictable, perhaps even cliche, and certainly ‘feels written’ and thus unnatural, I, honestly, did enjoy seeing those scenes where strangers of all shapes, sizes, and stereotypes had room in their hearts for pets and really wanted to be of assistance. Immanuel Kant supposedly once said that you can judge a person’s heart by how they treat animals, and, quite apropos, this film shows us that our love of animals can connect and unite even the oddest couples.

It also, to a certain extent, works as a film about a father and a son bonding over the fact that they both worry intensely for those they love most (there’s something here about how the son doesn’t quite understand why his father is so concerned about him. That is, until the son finds out how helpless you can feel when your loved ones are lost). This doesn’t necessarily make it a particularly good movie (and it isn’t), but it does make it a sweet little film that I’m glad I spent some time with. Because, frankly, sometimes it’s nice to just watch something with its heart in the right place, even if it is just another Hallmark-Esque film that is destined to disappear into the vast Netflix content library.

Stephen Herek’s generic Dog Gone is lazily titled (it gets to the point, at the very least, I guess — but it also feels somewhat like a trigger warning), there are several unconvincing moments either through the writing or the performances, and there aren’t a lot of moments in it that you don’t see coming. I, honestly, can’t say that it is good, but, for better or worse, it is exactly what it set out to be. The film follows in the footsteps of other similar movies that look to the Lassie-formula for inspiration (it is relatively emotionally manipulative, as you might expect, but once Gonker is lost, you rarely see him), and you’ll probably forget about the film’s existence relatively quickly. But the sweet and kind messages at the heart of this story make it watchable.

5 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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