As you all know I recently finished covering the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. For the most part it was a disappointing festival with nothing that is likely going to stand out by the end of the year. It’s ironic that one of the most successful “Sundancy” films I saw this week, Therapy Dogs, is going to be released at the Slamdance Film Festival instead of Sundance.
In the film director Ethan Eng takes an underground documentary approach to a narrative chronicling him and his friends senior year of high school. They tell their friends it is a high school yearbook video but it’s actually a feature film.
This is the kind of movie you used to get at Sundance all the time. Friends making a movie together and capturing an authentic look at their worlds. Now it is far too much of the Netflix/Amazon films that don’t feel particularly grounded.
Therapy Dogs at times feels too raw and authentic. It will certainly make you glad you aren’t a teenager today. The drug use and other damaging behavior can be quite shocking. There is also a scene in a strip club that was way too long and felt like part of a different movie.
That said, there are a lot of sequences that feel genuine. One of my favorite parts was all the promposals and any time you see the dance and choral performances at school. As hard as high school can be it is a time where you can explore your talents without the weight of a career or family to worry about.
Eng says at the beginning of the movie “It’s the movie you all deserve…the truth about high school.” and I think that is true. Watching Therapy Dogs reminded me of the brilliant documentary Minding the Gap, where director Bing Liu follows his friends in a documentary for many years. It’s a similar dynamic here where you get to see how these teens live and how most of the preconceived ideas people have aren’t true. For example, they show the partying and then there is a big title card that says ‘Parties Suck’. It’s that contrast between behavior and actual emotion which makes Therapy Dogs a fascinating watch.
Therapy Dogs is a hard R rating but in fairness so is high school. You can watch it on demand as part of The Slamdance Film Festival right now (passes are only $10)
7 out of 10