A “dog movie” is probably the last thing you would have expected for Channing Tatum’s directorial debut. But DOG – HAPPINESS HAS FOUR PAWS Contrary to its USA title, it is anything but an animal-centric feel-good film. We reveal more about this in our review.
OT: Dog (USA 2022)
Former Army Ranger Jackson Briggs (Channing Tatum) is looking for a fresh start when he meets Lulu – a Belgian Malinois dog who has spent years in military service. Against Briggs’ wishes, they are sent on journeys together. In Briggs Ford Bronco, the two set off on a road trip along the US Pacific coast in order to get to the funeral of a mutual friend in time. On the way there, they initially drive each other crazy, break rules again and again, get into lots of crazy situations – and ultimately become inseparable.
Channing Tatum’s directorial debut is a real labor of love. “Dog,” which in USA has the misleading subtitle “Luck has four paws,” is a homage to “his Lulu.” A female pit bull who accompanied him for many, many years until her death due to illness in 2018. Tatum also went on a road trip with her, where the two grew even closer together. Only the circumstances of this trip were of a more harmless nature than those described in “Dog”. Because as much as the film emphasizes the close bond between humans and animals towards the end, the drama also tells the story of the war trauma that two- and four-legged soldiers bring with them from their missions in a rocky and anything but humanizing manner. For this, Tatum benefited from the experience of his author and accompanying director Reid Carolin, for whom he has already taken on the lead roles in numerous films (including “Magic Mike” and “White House Down”), which he gathered from conversations with Army veterans. By now you can imagine: “Happiness has four paws” simplifies the actual topic. Because there can be no talk of “luck” here. Unlike in “Hatchiko”, “Marley & I” or “Enzo and the Wonderful World of Man” you really have to look for the moments of happiness in “Dog”. And that, where the film actually follows all-too-familiar road movie buddy stations that are narratively interpreted in a completely different way.
The relationship between Lulu (Britta, Lana 5 and Zuza) and Briggs (Channing Tatum) is difficult.
To a certain extent, people anthropomorphizing their animals isn’t that big of a problem. We simply perceive our four-legged companions as part of the family too much to allow them to be reduced to their animal existence. Nevertheless, animal-centric productions – especially when aimed at the entire family – often go overboard in reading human emotions into animal souls. This is exactly where “Dog – Happiness Has Four Paws” does a lot of things right. The Belgian Shepherd Lulu, embodied by a total of three different dogs, shows a thoroughly animal trauma behavior that does not even have to be humanized to the problems of her two-legged companions; the symptoms are very similar, which automatically fuels the emotional connection between the audience and the dog. Especially when the animal lies down at the grave of its deceased master in a haunting scene, after we have previously known it primarily as an uncontrollable beast, such images, without any commentary or constructed train of thought, are sufficient to show the dog as a being with a heart and mind understand. Channing Tatum works in contrast (“The Lost City – In Search of the Lost City”) in the scenes without his furry companion – due to the script – almost a little colorless. We get to know his (now former) Army Ranger Jackson Briggs as a self-sacrificing ex-soldier whose exclusion from military service leaves him with nothing.
“Lulu, embodied by a total of three different dogs, shows trauma behavior that is completely animal-like and does not need to be humanized to the problems of her two-legged comrades; the symptoms are very similar, which automatically fuels the emotional connection between the audience and the dog.”
While the script written by Reid Carolin and co-author Brett Rodriguez initially establishes this fact as almost the only character trait, the road trip that dominates the second half gradually reveals more of the loner’s peculiarities. This is primarily ensured by the interaction with Lulu. Even without Briggs obviously carrying trauma, the fates of the two main characters are mirrored. Both are left alone by the state after their service at the front (incidentally, this is not the first recent film to deal with the topic: “Cherry – The End of All Innocence”, “Ambulance” and “The Contractor” also took on the sketchy issue , state aftercare for soldiers) and are now trying to get out of their (emergency) situation together. Contrary to what is usual in the genre, this doesn’t just take long until a decisive “click moment” welds the partners together against their will. Right up to the very last scene, the relationship between humans and animals is characterized by difficulties, primarily caused by the lack of communication options. “Dog” is not a “dog whisperer film” but a serious treatment of emotional problems in which a dog also happens to play a major role.
Sometimes happiness simply looks like this: one person leaves the other alone…
Unfortunately, the pleasing production gets in the way of the film’s emotional impact to some extent. As if the creatives themselves didn’t trust the serious approach to a “dog film”, they sprinkle in all-too-familiar road movie motifs that clash tonally with the intention. Above all, a station with two women practicing tantra who clearly take a liking to the good-looking ex-soldier tries so hard to give the story an inappropriate lightness that you feel like you’re in another film for a brief moment, but it’s a stop anyway a couple (who initially seem a bit backwoods) can compensate for this narrative faux pas. In general, cameraman Newton Thomas Siegel (fittingly also photographed “Cherry”) and composer Thomas Newman make an effort (“1917”), to create a cozy, soulful look and matching acoustics, thereby leaving the devastating origins of the two soulmates off-screen. This means that “Dog – Happiness Has Four Paws” is ultimately hardly perceived as a “war film about post-traumatic depression”, but can concentrate entirely on the unobtrusive interaction between Briggs and Lulu. But maybe it’s not such a bad idea to introduce a taboo subject to an audience that might, after watching “Dog”, take a look at films like “Cherry”. And above all, stop reducing Channing Tatum to his existence as a former “Sexiest Man Alive.” After his self-ironic, humorous performances in “The Lost City”, the “Jump Street” films and “Free Guy”, he finally delivers a performance that also challenges him dramatically, something that comes naturally to him after his involvement in “Foxcatcher”. comes from hand.
“Unfortunately, the pleasing production gets in the way of the film’s emotional impact to some extent. As if the creatives didn’t quite trust the serious approach to a ‘dog film’, they sprinkled in all-too-familiar road movie motifs that clash tonally with the intention.”
Conclusion: The road movie drama “Dog – Happiness Has Four Paws” is the overall successful directorial debut of actor Channing Tatum, who combines a dramatic treatise on war trauma and a loving homage to his deceased dog in his film. It’s tonally annoying every now and then, but ultimately it’s so pleasing that it makes it easy for the audience to deal intensively with the taboo topic of “post-traumatic depression”.
“Dog – Happiness Has Four Paws” can be seen in USA cinemas from May 19, 2022.