Therapy Dogs is a coming-of-age movie directed by Ethan Eng about his final year in high school. Labelling the film as “coming-of-age” doesn’t quite do it justice (with all respect to the genre). It’s a part documentary, part narrative, and part experimental theatre about two friends at Cawthra Park Secondary School in Mississauga, Ontario, who are traversing all the ups and downs grade 12 has to offer.
Eng, along with lead actor Justin Morrice (fellow Cawthra student and one of Eng’s buddies), convince the school that they’re a part of the Yearbook Committee and are filming their class video for graduation. Throughout the year, Eng takes videos of his classmates, capturing school plays, band performances, and prom-posals (a note for us older folks: yes, it’s what it sounds like, and yes, it is elaborate). He and Justin also capture their antics, including bare-knuckle boxing in a Food Basics parking lot and securing Justin to the roof of a car and then doing donuts in the school parking lot.
One of the main subjects of the film is Kevin Tseng, a talented musician who has aspirations to make it big in L.A. The juxtaposition of Kevin’s talent and ambition to Justin’s debauchery encapsulates the dynamicism of high school life. Add in the unifying concern among all the boys of what is to come after graduation, Therapy Dogs taps into an experience that most of us have gone through (or soon will).
There are things that I could nitpick about Therapy Dogs, but quite frankly, they aren’t worth their weight when considering all the aspects of the film that point to an incredible filmmaker just beginning his journey. A movie seemingly unfocused and rambling, actually has a strong narrative thread that comes together nicely in the end. The typically frenetic high school antics are mellowed with heartfelt moments between friends. Eng strikes an impressive balance in the film that speaks to a sharp eye and depth of inherent skill.
The heart of the film exists in the genuine joy audiences feel in seeing young people at the precipice of opportunity and potential — that goes for Cawthra’s Class of 2019 and Eng specifically. Therapy Dogs is a unique film in its execution and an ambitious undertaking for a young filmmaker.
Ethan Eng. Remember that name.
The Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival is in-person and online from November 9 to 20.