Every major director has a film where they broke through and became famous. For Lasse Hallstrom, it was My Life as a Dog. This film made in his native language and country would pave the way for such Hollywood classics as What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Chocolat, and Cider House Rules.
My Life as a Dog involves a young boy named Ingemar who is a little bit wild. He is constantly getting into mischief and causing trouble for his sick mother. She is slowly dying from consumption and this affects her abilities to effectively care for Ingemar and his older brother. So they are sent away for the summer so that their mother can rest. He is shipped off to his uncle’s house. His uncle lives in this quirky town where every inhabitant is a neurotic. Everybody around him is obsessed with sex and yet they seem to have an infantile predilection for it despite all of them being grownups. In fact only Ingemar act chivalrous to the women in his life including a young girl trying to pass as a boy in order to keep playing soccer. The townspeople amuse themselves with silly distractions if they are working at the local glass works. Ingemar returns to his mother only to see that she has gotten worse. So he is shipped off once again to his uncle’s where he is stay for the rest of his life. He is told his mother died and along with the dog that was all his. He deals with this by breaking down in a half-finished summer-house, wondering aloud why his mother didn’t want him anymore. He pulls his life back together through the help of his friends and his new family.
I bring my own personal baggage to this film, I freely admit it. I grew up watching the three movies mentioned above along with several other coming of age in an idealistic world films. I recognize the tropes easily and am very weary of them. Unfortunately this film suffers from my past watching of mediocre movies. Although I can tell that the execution is above par here and Ingemar is mostly sympathetic, it just didn’t land for me. I think it was mostly due to the excess amount of quickness present in the film. For example one of the townspeople spends his time putting boobs on the glasses he makes in the factory. He then asks the most buxom woman in the film to be a model for a statue he is doing. She takes Ingemar along with her so that the sculptor wouldn’t try anything with her. But he is forced to stay in a spare room while she is in the other room naked and posing. Curiosity gets the best of him and Ingemar decides to have a peak at her boobs by climbing onto the roof and peering down through a glass window. Of course the window breaks and he falls on top of the naked woman. When Ingemar goes back the second time, the sculptor has finished the product and it is now not just the naked woman but Ingemar falling on top of him. I groaned when I saw that. That joke couldn’t have been more obvious to me. This film is full of these things.
Since I commented on the director of this film at the beginning of this post, I must comment on how he is doing nowadays. One glance at his IMDb profile would prove that he is not doing great. Ever since Chocolat, he has been on a massive down slide. His most recent films are based on Nicholas Sparks novels and he recently put out one of the worst films of this year, Safe Haven. Gone are the days of overweight women stuck in bed, small French towns and cable knit sweaters. Poor dude.