Therapy Dogs 2023 Movie Review
What does it mean to grow up now, in a period when society is shifting at a breakneck pace? Ethan Eng’s “Therapy Dogs,” a bracing, exhilarating film that tracks one high school class’s senior year, has a simple answer: Youth is, as it always has been, about being young. Young and reckless, existential and inarticulate, hopeful and hopeless.
The film, written by Eng and his co-star Justin Morrice, is mostly shot as real documentary footage, often with GoPro and cellphone cameras. The boys tell their fellow students they’re part of the class of 2019’s yearbook committee — but, they explain at the start of the film, it’s all a ruse to chronicle and reveal “the truth about high school.” It’s the kind of naïvely dramatic proclamation one expects from 17-year-olds.
And yet, Eng does about as much, nimbly blending scripted scenes with vérité footage and using budget limitations to his advantage to craft a raw, impressionistic portrait of high school as it’s happening. Or, at least, as it’s experienced by teenage boys in a Canadian suburb, in all their wayward hooliganism. (Two back-to-back scenes — a fight in a parking lot, followed by a poorly communicated heart-to-heart — provide a captivating, intimate study of masculinity.)
But Eng mostly doesn’t force emotional catharsis; the opening and closing scenes (a sudden, unresolved climax is the only real blemish here) are all that indicate a coming-of-age tale. The rest, structured roughly around charmingly low-grade title cards and filled with daring changes in form, sharp editing and an often affecting score, is like one long montage of the blur of senior year: the drugged-out adventures, the inadvisable stunts, the stupid and sensational moments born out of boredom.
It’s remarkable that the protagonists of the film — so clearly just lost kids being kids — are the same ones who are confidently, imaginatively creating it. Watching its sequences, you can feel both the immediacy of each moment and the nostalgia that’s already seeping in — each snippet of life becoming, by the minute, just a flicker in the teenagers’ minds, like the flashes in the film’s montages, immortalizing their youth before it’s lost to time’s grasp.