WE DON’T DESERVE DOGS (SXSW2020) – Review by Tara McNamara

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In the last decade, moviegoers have come to embrace empathetic canines in film. Maybe it’s because life has become scarier and we need a reminder there’s a creature that exists just to love us – or maybe movie studios began to realize that Lassie, Rin Tin Tin and Benji were always successful. Either way, We Don’t Deserve Dogs is a documentary that shows how dogs are truly man’s best friend all across the globe.

Instead of telling one story, the film is a series of vignettes. People in one location in one country share their experience with how one dog has impacted their lives. Usually, the animal helped them with a positive transformation, but not always. And then, the story moves to another geographic location and another dog-master and we hear their story.

Some of the stories are revealing: for instance, in Uganda former child soldiers are now highly traumatized adults who find that dogs help them cope with PTSD and depression. Sometimes, it’s the human who has helped the dog overcome abuse. Or, the dog is used for work. Or therapy. Or dinner (the Vietnam visit is pretty dark and incredibly unsettling for dog lovers).

It’s pretty simple storytelling. There’s no narrator tying the segments together – they’re just random stories, one after the other (and usually subtitled). And, there’s no chroma key to indicate the country where the interview is taking place – which would make the transitions less confusing and also stop the mind from drifting and wondering where they are.

Ultimately, as all dog films, it’s not really about the dogs. It’s about the humans. And, that’s the only part that makes this worth a glance. The circumstances behind each dog’s adoption is wildly fascinating because it’s so rare to get a peek into the culture, attitudes, beliefs, and lives of individuals around the world. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to sustain this as a film. It’s missing crucial storytelling elements like a beginning and end, a conflict, and it doesn’t go anywhere – it’s put together so insufficiently that it wouldn’t make it to air on Animal Planet. Its best use would be to break up the segments by location and utilize it as a digital campaign for dog food. Except for the Vietnam portion.

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Tara McNamara

Tara McNamara has carved out a niche as a movie journalist with expertise in family films, including serving as the Fandango’s Film Mom and a Common Sense Media movie critic. She led the recurring "Reel Moms" segment on “Today," was Variety's news anchor on Sirius Radio and a regular contributor to "The Insider," "Entertainment Tonight," and "Inside Edition." She currently runs 80sMovieGuide.com and co-hosts the '80s Movies: A Guide to What's Wrong with Your Parents podcast.