Any canine lover can tell you that some of the most relatable, oftentimes poignant things to watch are dog movies! Leave it to Netflix to go down this trail, thankfully not swaying too heavily into cheesy, melodramatic territory. Based on a harrowing true story, Dog Gone ended up being a lot better than I expected. Of course, the cheesiness is par for the course in these types of pictures. If one can get past the manipulative score and TV-movie presentation, Dog Gone holds a surprising amount of heart and emotion at its core.
Fielding (Johnny Berchtold) is about to graduate from Virginia University, yet seems aimless as to his life’s direction. All of his friends have jobs lined up, and even Fielding’s sister seems to have a solid gig in Seattle. On the eve of his graduation, Fielding spontaneously decides to trek to his local pound with bestie Nate (Nick Peine). He ends up taking home an adorable puppy, who wastes no time fully emptying his bladder all over Nate during the car ride! Fielding throws a homecoming party for the sweet dog—Fielding dubs him “Gonker” after he accidentally gets “gonked” on the head. The name sticks, per Gonker’s approval.
When Fielding’s parents show up the day before graduation, they are just as surprised as anyone to learn that Fielding now has Gonker as a personal pet. The way they see it, Fielding cannot even fully take care of himself, let alone another animal. Fielding’s dad, John (Rob Lowe), is a bit harsh in particular. Though Fielding ends up oversleeping and missing the actual ceremony itself, he goes back to living with his parents in McLean, Virginia, bringing beloved Gonker along for a permanent stay. While John is quick to insist that Gonker needs a shock collar, Fielding protests and is highly defensive of Gonker’s treatment.
Things go swimmingly but bizarrely, as Fielding’s connection with Gonker is strong indeed. One day, Gonker refuses to eat or play, and they immediately rush him to the vet. It turns out, he has a rare condition requiring immediate attention. Gonker will have this his entire life, but it is at least treatable by way of medicine. Fielding and Nate take Gonker for a walk in along the Appalachian Trail, but he ends up running off after a fox and disappearing completely! The constant thought of what may happen to Gonker and the possibility that he may not get the medicine he needs while lost drives Fielding crazy. Luckily, his parents rally behind him in their efforts to search for the missing dog.
Gonker’s story begins to spread far and wide, as one expects, and Fielding never gives up on him, neglecting his own health in the process. Though it does take a bit for Dog Gone to get going, I did like that Fielding sees Gonker as the only being in his life that loves him unconditionally. Berchtold does great with the heavier emotional stuff, and Rob Lowe as his father is also quite good. In addition to being about the relationship with Gonker, the movie slowly rebuilds the bond between father and son as it chugs along. The mother’s backstory about trauma from losing her own childhood dog came across a little shoehorned in, but does eventually have a pretty sweet payoff.
Dog Gone is nowhere near the best I have ever seen, but as far as Netflix dramas go, it feels sincere. The final moments warmed my heart, and sent tears sliding down my cheeks. A certain level of cynicism can be hurled in the way of the filmmakers for some of the more emotionally manipulative moments, yet one cannot deny the sheer power of the ending. Easily recommendable for families and dog lovers, Dog Gone is a refreshing, sweet little movie.
Don’t stray off the beaten path—Dog Gone comes to Netflix on Friday, January 13th!