494. Dog Days

★★★

I have a theory:

A few years ago, I believe that screenwriters Erica Oyama and Elissa Matsueda came up with a hilarious idea for a movie that poked fun at nauseating, happenstance romance films like “Valentine’s Day,” “New Year’s Eve” and the eternal “Love Actually.” Hollywood balked on the idea, thinking their script’s acerbic humor and satire wouldn’t jive with the gushing sentimentality on-screen.

“I bet if we didn’t tell them it was a joke, but added a few small stories about dogs to the script and framed it as some sort of serious canine ‘Love Actually” set in LA, they’d give us a million dollars,” one of the writers said to each other.

“No, that’ll never work, they wouldn’t know whether to market it to kids, families, couples, it would be a mess,” the other replied.

“But it will have dogs. People will come.”  On August 8, 2018, “Dog Days” was released.

Whether my theory is true or not, there is an admirable and troubling peculiarity lurking underneath the paw of “Dog Days.” It’s like “Homeward Bound” meets “Bridesmaids,” “All Dogs Go To Heaven” meshed with “Knocked Up” or “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” The humor is sex-driven and mostly adult, save for some occasional shots of dog butts and gags to satisfy the kids. One second we’re laughing at a dog with its head trapped in a fast food bag, the next we’re chuckling at a double-entendre about a woman’s loose vagina. What is this movie?

Directed by Ken Marino, star of “Party Down, “Burning Love,” where Erica Oyama was a writer, and just general member of that tight-knit comedy community that pals around together and shows up in each other’s films and shows, “Dog Days” is enjoyable but unsettling.  It’s like watching hilarious stand-up comedy but afraid that the comedian is going to start ragging on you, or laughing at your drunk friend as they approach a table full of girls but deeply afraid he is going to say something offensive or stupid that gets you all banned from every Buffalo Wild Wings in the county. We want to experience the preconceived notion of what a movie like “Dog Days” is supposed to be like. Thankfully, Marino never gives us that.

“Dog Days” is a movie that uses all of its filmmaking means to deconstruct the cliches of so many lackluster, intertwined love tales. Sloppy editing, paper thin characters who live in apartments and houses a few thousand dollars out of their range, and dialogue and plot devices coated in gooey, cinematic cheese. But “Dog Days” is too self aware to be a parody. It’s literally living and breathing as your typical, interconnected loverly jaunt, a gross out flick that drank enough polyjuice potion to convince us it’s the real rom-com deal for two hours.

Years from now, maybe even decades, Ph.D film students at USC and UCLA will be writing their dissertations about “Dog Days” and how it deconstructed a genre while totally embracing it. The film will be included in lists on the A.V. Club and IndieWire of unappreciated movies of the 2010s. The fact that it was released on a Wednesday will be something that baffles box office analysts and historians. It’s the closest thing you can get to actual cinematic performance art, the philosophies and mantras of Andy Kaufman and Andy Warhol randomly boiled down into a 113 minute of tale of canine comradery in the City of Angels. It’s both a failure and a massive achievement on an still unrecognized scale.

The dogs are cute, too.

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