Film-Forward Review: [YEAR OF THE DOG]


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Molly Shannon as Peggy with Pencil
Photo: Suzanne Tenner

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Written & Directed by: Mike White.
Produced by: Dede Gardner, Ben LeClair & White.
Director of Photography by: Tim Orr.
Edited by: Dody Dorn.
Music by: Christophe Beck.
Released by: Paramount Vantage.
Country of Origin: USA. 97. Rated: PG-13.
With: Molly Shannon, Laura Dern, Regina King, Tom McCarthy, Josh Pais, John C. Reilly & Peter Sarsgaard.

In each of Mike White’s screenplays, his characters are uncomfortably weird, but in a far subtler way than Todd Solondz’s ensembles. With White, everyone could potentially be an outcast, were it not for the simple fact that many of his characters lack the self-consciousness to realize how odd they truly are (like Jennifer Aniston’s makeup counter coworkers in The Good Girl). It’s only when his protagonists begin to reflect that they get into trouble, break from society, and then reorient themselves with a newfound acknowledgment and acceptance of their weirdness.

That’s no different here in his film debut. Molly Shannon, whose skills as a dramatic actress will shock you, plays Peggy, who has an office job, a close friend, and a family who love her, but she has her dog, Pencil, and that’s all she needs to be happy. Peggy is that kind of special individual who has decorated her home with ceramic adornments resembling or relating to her pet. A perfect night for her involves rubbing calamine lotion on her joints and sitting with Pencil watching Jeopardy! from her mauve armchair. And then Pencil dies. Peggy’s like a lonely but resilient Pedro Almodóvar character. But where Pencil’s death would have dragged Peggy into something like a bisexual terrorist plot in Almodóvar, with White, we see how messed up everyone else in Peggy’s life is before she learns to cope in repose.

Her friend Layla, played by Regina King in one of her funniest performances ever, suggests she get laid. Her boss (Josh Pais, also at his best) gives her a raise, hoping she’ll cheer up. Newt (Peter Sarsgaard), a man who works at the veterinary hospital that treated Pencil, proposes she save a dog who’s about to be put down. She takes Newt’s advice. She also falls in love with him, although it turns out he’s both gay and celibate, but Peggy takes his desire to help animals and strict vegan philosophies to heart and begins a campaign to save the lives of mistreated animals, a mission more important to her than anything she’s ever done. White seems to point out that while her determination seems ridiculous, so does everyone else’s chosen paths towards personal happiness.

What make the film solid are two things: the performances, which are stellar all around from a choice cast, and White’s ability to manage pain with humor. Every single action these characters take is outlandishly funny and wincingly embarrassing at the same time. From Peggy’s admittance that she prefers pets to people to Layla’s inability to recognize her relationship with her fiancé has never once worked, our empathy and disdain is moderated by reserves of well-written humor. Although the storyline is never gripping and the satire is too saturated with sentimentalism to fully relish its bite, Year of the Dog is still a pretty original independent situation comedy with enough brilliant moments to make it worth seeing in theaters. Zachary Jones
April 13, 2007



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