EIFF REVIEW: Gone Doggy Gone a howl

Gone Doggy Gone GigCity EdmontonThe most sympathetic character in Gone Doggy Gone is the dog.

Ooh, but Laila is such a sweet little crumbcake! With her wee sweaters and booties and her adorable little baby puppy carriage, and her humans wipe her butt with baby wipes because she sleeps in their bed, literally coming between man and wife, and her humans would just DIE if anything happened to their widdle iddy bitty snookie wookums!

Turns out that something does – and that’s the driving force, the lovable, fuzzy driving force of a canine romantic comedy about people who love dogs maybe a little too much. Don’t get the wrong idea.

The closing gala of the Edmonton International Film Festival on Saturday night, the movie is written, directed by and stars Kasi Brown and Brandon Walter as an insufferable yuppie couple who literally treat their Yorkshire Terrier like a baby. So does their full-time dog-nanny Jill (Shaina Vorspan), who’s even more unhinged than the owners – sorry, pet parents. These people have serious issues. They have emotionally substituted the dog for human contact missing in their own lives. Happens all the time in the first world. The wife, Abby, doesn’t like babies, while Jill is practically a baby herself. Abby’s best friend Kat (Kate Connor), meanwhile, is a shrill pothead who’s 42 going on 17.

Gone Doggy Gone GigCity EdmontonFrom the baby carriage to the constant anthropomorphic doting, this is the same sort of behaviour explored in detail in Furever (which screened at EIFF last year), a documentary about the strange things people do when their pets die. People can suffer grief as devastating as the loss of a human loved one, and they can basically do whatever they want with their pet’s remains.

The tone is lighter – in the fiction that truth is stranger than – in Gone Doggy Gone. Complications ensue when the couple announces plans to move to San Francisco. Jill is heartbroken at the idea of being without her beloved Littles, which she has come to think of as her own baby. She’s the one that takes care of Laila most of the time, after all.

Spoiler alert: She kidnaps the dog. Not much of a spoiler. It was meant to happen.

A merry chase ensues. The owners and their circle of friends behave as though a human child has been kidnapped, putting up posters, setting up a command centre, searching fields linked arm in arm. The movie gets pretty silly, thanks in a large part to the bumbling private detective (Jeff Sloniker) hired because the police don’t take “kidnapped baby” reports seriously when it turns out to be a lost dog.

It can seem creepy when humans treat pets like people, when they seem to care more for animal welfare than for fellow humans, when they use their pets as surrogate human comfort without thinking if the animal even likes it. There is evidence that dogs hate hugs, for instance, much less having their butts wiped. That’s what tongues are for.

Every single human character is unpleasant in this story, at least for the first half until they reveal their depth, their “humanity” – and that’s the only sore point in an otherwise funny and thought-provoking film. It’s hard to care about the story when you don’t care about the characters. Except Laila. Great performance. Very convincing being cute and loving her humans back (it helps that she’s Kasi Brown’s dog in real life). She just takes it all in. “Go for a walk? Lick your face? Go to the park? Sure! I have no idea what you ridiculous humans are up to, but I’m game for anything as long as I’m with you. I’m a dog.”

Tickets to the EIFF closing gala in the Landmark Cinemas 9 City Centre (3rd floor, 10200 102 Avenue), are $25, and include admission to the afterparty in the Delta Centre Suite Ballroom, featuring live music from the Lent Brothers. The filmmakers will be in attendance. Unfortunately, the canine star of the film can’t make it. She’s 11 years old and has never been on an airplane, explains Brown. “She only does local appearances, like Betty White.”