PATRICK, the film and the eponymous pug who plays him, are sly charmers who take a fairly predictable plot and make it a cozy experience well worth the investment of your time. You don’t need to be a fan of pugs to fall in love with Patrick, an irresistibly headstrong dog with an agenda not readily apparent to his new owner, but one that proves canine wisdom might just be greater than that of mere homo sapiens.
The new owner is Sarah (Beattie Edmondson), a teacher whose love life is a shambles, and whose well-meaning family can’t help but compare her to her sister, the sibling who didn’t drop out of law school, and who does have a husband and children. When Sarah’s grandmother dies, she leaves her beloved, and much pampered, Patrick to Sarah with the cryptic explanation that they will be good for one another. And so they are, but, like all relationships, it takes work. For Patrick, it means going from being the center of Granny’s life, with his portrait on the wall and a dog bed worthy of a maharajah, to being left to his own devices as Sarah starts her new job teaching English to adolescents who could care less about Jane Eyre in particular, or novels in general. For Sarah, newly dumped by her boyfriend, and newly moved into a flat that doesn’t allow pets, it means learning to sneak Patrick in and out, and making friends with the fellow dog-owner (Gemma Jones) in hopes that she will dog-sit him while Sarah is at work instead of coming home to an external manifestation he has made of the shambles of her life.
Soon, though, Sarah finds perks to having Patrick in her life. The handsome vet (Ed Skrein) who tends to Patrick when he indulges in chocolate, and Ben (Tom Bennett), the sweet man she meets while walking Patrick (and who doesn’t flinch at Sarah’s apparent hostility to dog-ownership). The gradual opening up to people around her lets her find a way to reach her students (natch), find a new best friend in fellow teacher, Becky (Emily Atack), deflect the barbs of a supercilious school administrator (Adrian Scarborough) who is less than impressed with her teaching methods, and even run a marathon despite being completely out of shape. A situation not helped by the constant proffering of pastry by the school’s cooking teacher (a delightfully daft Jennifer Saunders, Edmondson’s real-life mother).
Edmondson is a deft mix of pathos and slapstick with her own undeniable charm. Exhibiting a lack of grace is just shy of goofy, as she plops face-down onto her bed after being unceremoniously dumped, only to stay there watching rom-coms and eating empty calories, there is a wondrous determination to keep going in spite of landing in life doldrums. Whether struggling with a dress that won’t cooperate in being worn, or stepping in something Patrick left to let her know his unhappiness with being left alone all day, she finds a truth that we can all relate to, as she does when she goes on her first date with the handsome vet, finding out something about herself she didn’t realize, it warms the cockles of our hearts. As for that dog, he is a self-assured bundle of confidence, everything that Sarah is not, making them each the perfect foil for the other. Behind his soulful eyes and distinct swagger, there’s a genuine sense that there’s some serious cogitation going on in that small furry head. It adds a sense of the epic destiny to his every action, even his ongoing feud with anything feline.
PATRICK is not the sort of film where everyone fawns over the animal at the center of the story. Nor can said pet be said to fawn on anyone in his orbit, though his reaction to Granny’s passing has a restrained pathos to it that, once again is a credit to the filmmaker and the dog’s thespian abilities. It’s what gives it enough starch to overcome the standard story of a woman brought out of her shell by a pet.