Dogstar is set in the late 1990s in Colorado. An English family of free-spirited hippies has an adult son named Dogstar (Jon Jacobs), who is an artist, deeply introverted, and easily overstimulated. He lives in his room, only emerging periodically for dinners, spending the bulk of his time drawing comics and looking at the stars with his telescope.
Dogstar got his name from hours of stargazing with his father. His favorite star was a bright one called Sirius, which is prominent in the Canis Major constellation, also known as the Dog Star. Even though his condition is never named, Dogstar is clearly a neurodiverse person, somewhere on the autistic spectrum. His thought and behavior patterns are atypical but fast-forward 20 years, and from our perspective, he only seems slightly eccentric. He could be any World of Warcraft gamer.
We meet Dogstar when Gabrielle (J.C. Brandy), the love of his life, does. She’s a lovely person, open and sweet, but his issues pale in comparison to her raging addiction to heroin. They charm each other when she visits his family, and she enters his world of stars, dreams, and art.
As their various obsessions drive them together and apart, it seems their relationship is doomed. Still, the one sweet moment in life carved out of the chaos is the only gift they can give each other, a furious fire that burns brightly, though perhaps briefly.
“As their various obsessions drive them together and apart, it seems their relationship is doomed.”
The noise in their lives is deafening. Dogstar’s family means well, but living with them is a cacophony of coming and going frenetically. His brother, Astro (Gabriel Jewel), is perpetually asking to “borrow” cash from everyone. Astro takes pride of place as a contender for the most annoying person to ever appear on film. Perhaps one of the Farrelly Brothers’ characters is worse, but it would be a challenge to choose one.
Gabrielle’s life is equally mad. Her addiction keeps her on the move looking for a fix. Her roommate Nicky (Alix Koromzay) is also addicted, and they have their own world of alternating between hunger and euphoria.
Writer-director Sophia Dia Pegrum built Dogstar out of almost nothing. The budget was minimal, there were no sets to speak of, and the actors came together as they could to complete scenes. This all happened in the late-1990s, long before crowd-funding. She had a story to tell, and she told it. That idea is simple and beautiful and permeates the film. Jon Jacobs and J.C. Brandy weave the growing bond between Dogstar and Gabrielle gently and gradually. The quiet innocence of their time together makes the inevitable tragedy all the more shattering for the viewer.
The production quality is uneven, to be sure. The sound is difficult to comprehend at times, and despite being made and set in the U.S., it has a very English energy to it, specifically British films of the ’60s. It would not be a surprise at any point for someone to break out singing, “Tommy, can you hear me?”
Dig through the grainy 16mm images, often amateurish lighting and cinematography, and the rough sound production of Dogstar, and you’ll be rewarded with a lovely, trippy, poetic film experience that is well worth your efforts.
"…a lovely, trippy, poetic film experience..."