A pair of Canadian high schoolers document their senior year in cinéma vérité fashion. Therapy Dogs takes place in 2019 at Cawthra Park Secondary School in the suburbs of Toronto. Besties Ethan Eng and Justin Morrice use guerilla filmmaking tactics to capture their lives at a pivotal time. The teens blend truth and fantasy in a frenetic, quick edits exploration of burgeoning adulthood. They get style points for creativity but weakly addresses serious themes. Therapy Dogs can best be described as a ninety-minute TikTok video of partying, drugs, petty vandalism, and infantile behavior. They embody the carefree existence of first-world middle-class youth.
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Ethan and Justin conceal their identities as they surreptitiously climb to the school’s roof. They set off fireworks and dance around as a camera in the distance records their sparkly open. The teens are going to “show the truth about high school” by recording their own yearbook video. They use cameras to interview classmates and clandestinely record their illicit activities. They bounce between running around wildly and goofing off with their friends. This involves smoking weed, recording a night out tripping on LSD, smashing walls in abandoned houses, and jumping off a bridge right before a train slams into them.
They break down the film by introducing their state of mind at that moment. Intros include titles like “School is Boring”, “Meet Kevin”, and “Kyle’s Story.” There’s not really a linear progression through the year because you can’t tell when events take place. School is boring every day for most people growing up, so I assume they chose specific lameness for personal reasons.
Ethan and Justin periodically divert from frivolity to capture somber emotional states. “A Trip Through Time” shows footage of a student that committed suicide the day before graduation twelve years ago. They linger briefly before resuming juvenile antics. The filmmakers argue, fight, and annoy each other as personalities clash. A scene has them play fighting shirtless, only to really get angry, and wish they’d beaten each other worse.
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Therapy Dogs reflects what the filmmakers think and feel is important. This doesn’t include actual learning, talking to girls outside of light banter, or any meaningful understanding of the world around them. A brief moment of clarity has them realizing all they know are the suburbs. Then it’s back to going crazy and having fun.
Their lack of connection with the opposite sex stands out. Ethan and Justin seemingly have no female friends. They interact somewhat at parties, but girls aren’t in their sphere. They film others doing elaborate prom proposals, but can’t find dates. Ethan’s lewd attempt to solve this problem speaks directly to a current trend in Generation Z and Alpha; where males under twenty-five have unrealistic expectations about women and girls. Ethan trying to get a stripper prom date isn’t healthy behavior when there are literally hundreds of girls at his school.
A Dark Turn
Ethan and Justin take a dark turn in the third act. They are not fulfilled by the high school experience. The opposite is true. Sadness pervades despite their year of crazy shenanigans. They weren’t abused, hungry, forced to work, bullied, or alone; but are left hollow and depressed. The next phase of maturity begins on poor footing.
Hard times make stronger people. Therapy Dogs takes place before the pandemic. I have a feeling that all those kids stuck at home during Covid are thrilled to be back in school and socializing. I would hope that Ethan and Justin reframe their coming-of-age story in retrospect. They had it pretty good in the suburbs… better than most.
Therapy Dogs is a production of Shy Kids, Matt Johnson, and Matthew Miller. It will be available on March 17th on demand from Utopia.
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