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February 12, 2015
Down Dog is the latest offering from writer Simon Nye, of Men Behaving Badly fame, along with some assistance from the lesser known Anders Dussan and Lawrence Tallis. In this British comedy we follow failed-father-turned-semi-playboy Frank Clayton (Jason Durr) as he attempts to deal with his imminent death although in reality this is all a ruse set-up by his ex-wife Rachel (Orla O’Rourke) in an attempt to get Frank to connect with their son Sam (Dylan Llewellyn).
The basic premise behind the film is the age old set-up of the neglectful father learning responsibility and maturity in order to become a better role model for his child. This in itself is rather an unoriginal premise which at least it’s been done before with a meaningful and emotional message. However, much of this sentiment is lost in Down Dog because we’re always aware that Frank is not changing for the better out of the genuine goodness of his heart, but merely because he has been tricked into thinking he might drop dead at any moment. It is hard to watch this film and feel encouraged to act as a good parent when such activity is only undertaken through blackmail and fear.
Furthermore, there are side plots that by the end of the film feel rather unresolved. This relates in particular to the character of Sam’s best friend Ella (Naomi Battrick). Firstly, there is a constant feel of will-they/won’t-they running throughout the film which eventually comes to nothing. The real shame though is that Ella’s own personal story of a quite horrendous home life, often being verbally abused by her father Bill (Nick Moran), simply trails off, despite being perhaps the most interesting part of Down Dog.
As the film goes on and we see more and more of this abusive relationship with Ella’s reacting by dressing in deliberately revealing outfits and acting as flirtatiously as possible with random men. We hope that Ella will break free and that Bill will get his comeuppance but this never takes place. The worst Bill gets is his limo breaking down as he forgets the safe word during an S&M session. Meanwhile Ella catches gonorrhea off a seemingly older man, whom she later dumps, and that’s it for her story. One cannot help but feel that everything else gets pushed aside towards the end of the film in order to focus solely on Frank, Sam and Rachel’s happy ending.
Unfortunately the plot isn’t the only major issue Down Dog faces. The humour itself and indeed the script overall, often come across as juvenile and even offensive at times. There are moments when this is understandable, when enacted by Frank in the early stages of the film, or by his boss Bill (Nick Moran), who are both intended moronic chauvinists. The problem that arises though is that the juvenile humour is really the only form of humour that can be found throughout the film, with penis jokes aplenty.
Indeed, there are even moments from characters that are meant to appear better-rounded and likeable that also cause one to double-take with a ‘did they really just say that?’ reaction. Once Frank begins to mature in the later stages of the film, any attempt at comedy seems to disappear almost entirely. This is not necessarily a bad thing as it shows the character’s emotional progression and the film’s along with it, but the tonal shift isn’t organic.
Even those points in Down Dog that are not poor are still simply mediocre. The performances from the entire cast, whilst solid enough, are largely forgetful. Even the slightly more memorable characters, namely Frank and Bill, only linger a little longer in the mind due to their almost cartoonish behaviour in certain scenes. However, one cannot really blame the cast for such shortcomings, given what they had to work with. Much the same can be said of the cinematography. Everything is shot clearly and professionally, but always in a rather bland and unadventurous manner, showing what needs to be shown in the simplest way possible.
Granted, there are a few nice moments in Down Dog. Some of the scenes between Sam and Frank are rather sweet, and Sam and Ella’s friendship does come across as rather genuine with its awkward teenage humour and flirtatiousness. Overall though there is very little to be found that will entertain anyone other than teenage boys. The plot comes across as rather insincere and, in some respects, unresolved, and the humour is generally juvenile, offensive or absent.
Down Dog is released in UK cinemas on February 13th