Two teen boys pan their camera to a large window in their Mississauga high school, their fellow students sitting on the other side of the glass. One of the boys, Ethan (Ethan Eng), tells the camera that their fellow seniors deserve the truth. The truth about the high school experience. That’s Therapy Dogs‘ premise, seemingly a low stakes one.
I’ll get back to whether or not it actually tells the truth about the high school experience, or its stakes. What this film at least does is play on form in an exciting way, showing layers within truth. It does this with a lot of things including fake PSAs.
That’s a pretty (pretentious) way of explaining the experience of Therapy Dogs. But in a way, it makes sense as it switches from home videos to PSA and something that looks like a ‘real’ film. These different formats capture boys who are equal parts extracurricular good boys and goofballs.
Eng directs and co-writes this film about a quasi-fictional versions of himself, Justin (co-writer Justin Morrice), Kevin (Kevin Tsang), and more. Sometimes they’re together but there are moments when each member of the clique shine individually. Sometimes, they even bring their little spotlight to any of their classmates who are unaware that they’re part of something both ephemeral and permanent.
The film captures the last year in these characters’ lives before they become adults. In capturing such a year, it depicts the obligatory house parties, but even with its snapshot approach, it captures the multiplicity of one’s experiences, things like feeling alone in a crowd.
Eng shows that the snapshot-y approach is enough to capture a character or subject’s hopes and dreams. It lets its viewers hear about someone who wants to go to LA, as tropey as that is. Less is more, these snippets are enough to carry over throughout the film as its dramatic weight.
Eng is also dealing with, in paper, the least sympathetic protagonist archetype – angsty boys. Maybe I’m warming up to a genre that I disliked five years ago, but I’ll give him credit for using both sights and sound to make these characters come off as bittersweet on film.
There is one other reason that this film can go sideways. It’s because it deals with the kind of characters who do stupid high school boy things. If anything, it does a good job of putting its viewers at ease. It does this before we realize what kind of danger they may be in. Without giving away too much, it reinforced by beliefs that I’m alive today because my childhood friends were girls.
The film’s found footage elements feel different with its mix of treating its characters and subjects with intimacy and distance. It uses that latter approach in haunting ways, in ways that put perspective of what Eng is trying to do all along. There’s also apparently a gay subtext to it which I didn’t catch, but if you did, werk.
Therapy Dogs is available on demand starting Friday.
- Rated: NR
- Genre: Comedy, Drama
- Release Date: 3/17/2023
- Directed by: Ethan Eng
- Starring: Ethan Eng, Justin Morrice, Kevin Tsang
- Produced by: Ethan Eng, Matt Johnson, Matthew Hornick, Patrick Cederberg
- Written by: Ethan Eng, Justin Morrice
- Studio: shy kids
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