A monthlong series in which Mr. Ringenberg looks at canine cinema, charitably or otherwise.
Wading through heaps of obscure dog movie trash, I happened to notice a common trait amongst them: They know their audience. Titles such as Pup Star, Shelby: The Dog Who Saved Christmas or what have you are low-rent, mass-produced DTV affairs immediately shot into the furthest corners of Netflix or on the fifth screen of your local Redbox kiosk. They exist more to take up space in a streaming service’s catalogue than to actually be watched. The hapless parent who puts these things on for their unsuspecting 2-year-old is the same type of person who rented Transmorphers assuming they were about to watch the latest Michael Bay jam.
Love on a Leash (streaming on YouTube for the brave souls among you readers) is the rare specimen with seemingly no target audience in mind. Fen Tian’s 2011 shoestring-budget writing / directing debut (which she made at the age of 72) follows the budding romance between a lonely young woman and a man whose consciousness is trapped inside a Golden Retriever. And that premise isn’t even the strangest thing about it. Leash doesn’t walk a tonal tightrope. Rather, it drunkenly lurches between innocuous canine comedy and harrowing human drama at a whim; this is a movie where the leading lady engages in a goofy meet-cute one instant and subjected to an attempted rape a mere 10 minutes later. It would be quite upsetting if it wasn’t all presented in such a stunningly incompetent package.
Now you may be familiar with — or even a connoisseur of — what’s typically labeled as “so-bad-it’s-good” cinema, with The Room, Birdemic and Fateful Findings being recent notorious examples. However, Leash establishes itself as something special within its first few minutes with a series of shots showing our main dog (who we find out is actually named Alvin Flang, which sounds lifted straight from MAD Magazine), wandering through a public park. Director Tian makes a radical decision right off the bat by neglecting to include any sound during this time. And yes, I mean there is literally no sound. No diegetic noise, no background score … just utter silence. No need to adjust your speakers, folks; you are now in the hands of a master filmmaker.
That endless silence is finally broken by the movie’s narrator: the doggo himself, Mr. Alvin Flang. The opening narration does little to explain why Alvin has found himself in this existential quandary, but it does reveal a few key things — the first being that the actor providing the voiceover (sadly unlisted on the film’s barebones IMDb page) doesn’t know how to speak into a microphone. Throughout the runtime, it sounds like he’s either reading his lines from across the room or simply deep-throating the mic to get as close as possible.
Second, and most crucial to understanding Alvin’s deranged psyche, is that this dog is incredibly horny. “I gotta find a girl!” he tells himself while frolicking around the park. He spouts classy catchphrases like, “Oooh baby, she’s hot!” upon seeing a girl catching a Frisbee, and “Hey, dude, I’m not gay!” when a male passerby tries to pet him. Imagine the talking bear from the Seth MacFarlane movie Ted, except all his dialogue was written by someone who’s never watched a comedy before. Alvin’s commentary is incessant, and zingers never stop coming.
We’re then introduced to Jana (Jana Camp) — the world’s most downtrodden and unlucky woman when it comes to men. Her boss is a drunken slob who tries to casually assault her, and when she eventually meets a guy who seems interested in her, he proposes to her before abruptly adding the minor caveat that he’s gay and thus will never be sexually attracted to her. Naturally, this drives Jana to attempt suicide via sleeping pills, only to be rescued by Alvin at the last second, who despite his noble efforts, remains as boorish and grating as any of the human characters.
Tian makes a sloppy attempt to throw in some rules once Alvin turns back into his human self, claiming he can only be a man at night and must revert back to dog form by sunrise. But we repeatedly see Alvin parading around town in broad daylight as a regular dude. There is absolutely no logic to carry the viewer from moment to moment in Love on a Leash‘s nonsensical universe. Perhaps Tian’s screenplay was trying to pay homage to Beat Generation author William S. Burroughs’ famous cut-up style of writing — in which scenes can be viewed and arranged in any order — as it’s hard to imagine another cut of Leash being any less coherent.
It’s challenging to write about a film this inexplicable without turning it into a bullet-point list of its many, many grievous crimes. Trust me when I say that Love on a Leash is a delicacy best served unsullied. It goes so far down the rabbit hole of unwatchability that it emerges on the other side as something entirely new. Before you take the plunge and watch this (which you should), forget everything you knew about the laws of filmmaking. Everyone involved here certainly did.