Written and directed by Jim Dougherty, Old Dogs Never Die is a warm and sentimental 25-minute short film about Harry Dunn (Steven Durgarn), a widowed grandfather who celebrates each birthday by doing something he's never done before. Each year, these activities are met with a wary skepticism by his son, Richard (Mark A. Nash), whose agreeability seems to grounded in keeping the peace than in actually supporting his father.
As Richard, his wife (Shari Salyers Stiles), and daughter Lily (Maggie Williams) gather for Harry's 71st birthday, Harry has cooked up his wildest plans yet when he decides he wants to bicycle across the country. There's one problem - Harry doesn't know how to ride a bicycle.
While Old Dogs Never Die is a short film, Dougherty has crafted what feels like a complete story that ends the perfect time that reinforces that for Harry this is all very much about the journey and not the destination. Durgarn's Harry is a compelling man, a guy who attracts both our sympathy and our undeniable enthusiasm. Harry is still very much in the throes of grief, especially when home alone and left to experience the life that for so long he shared. While it would be easy for that grief to overwhelm the screen, Durgarn wisely plays it low-key. This is especially true as his family arrives and his intentions begin to be revealed. Durgarn offers a memorable performance as a man whom I'm guessing will feel familiar to anyone who has watched a grandparent in their twilight years.
The film's best scenes are those between Harry and Lily, with Durgarn and young Maggie Williams sharing a warm, believable chemistry that radiates an intimacy seldom captured in short films. Williams is an absolute delight on screen, projecting an authenticity and affection for her grandfather that is heartfelt and sweet. Mark A. Nash wisely avoids caricature as Richard, whose relationship with his father has always been not much more than functional. It would be easy to call Richard the film's bad guy, but Nash's performance defies such easy labeling and gives Richard a humanity that makes us like him even when we don't agree with him. While Shari Salyers Stiles is given the least to do as Richard's wife, hers is an important presence that helps to bridge the performances.
Old Dogs Never Die is a schmaltzy film, with original music by Virgil Franklin that helps to build the film's unabashedly hopeful aura. Nathaniel Savidge's lensing is patient and focuses more on the relationships between characters found in their facial expressions and body language. There's nothing particularly dramatic about the film's production values, but they serve the film well throughout its running time.
Old Dogs Never Die is already proving to be popular on the indie film fest circuit with selections at River Bend Film Festival, the recent Alhambra Theater Film Festival, the Cayman International Film Festival and others. For more information on the film, be sure to visits its Facebook page.