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Year of the Dog

The understated yet charming Year of the Dog explores just how far a pet owner will go to find herself after she loses her best friend. And yes, to answer your question, this is definitely a movie for dog lovers.


Although actor/screenwriter Mike White writes with hilarious wit for his comrade in comedy, Jack Black--in films such as School of Rock and Orange County--he is also becoming a master at the slice-of-life dramedy. With The Good Girl, he expertly gave us a bored married woman stuck in a nowhere job trying to capture a little happiness. Now, with Year of the Dog, he hands us the ultimate sad sack, Peggy (Molly Shannon), who is practically inseparable from her beagle, Pencil. Life is uncomplicated and safe with her beloved pet, an excuse she uses to great effect in order to avoid human contact as much as possible. But Peggy's world comes crashing down when Pencil meets a mysterious demise in the neighbor's yard. Shattered, Peggy isn't sure where to turn to fill the void. Friends, family and co-workers try to distract her, but in the end, she emerges from her loss with a newfound sense of what will make her happy in the world.


Molly Shannon, huh? The SNL alum has generally been relegated to kooky sidekick roles after her disastrous (but somewhat guilty pleasure-ish) starring vehicle Superstar. But who knew she had the chops to pull something like this off. She's perfect as the lonely, downcast Peggy, who has completely resigned herself to living with her dog as her only companion. Shannon gets to show off her wacky side in certain moments--like when she "adopts" about 20 dogs and lets them run all over her house--but the actress plays the majority of her role with restraint and great subtlety. Also quite good is Peter Sarsgaard as a fellow dog lover who starts off as a potential love interest for Peggy but ends up disappointing her, like all the other humans in her life. His character's unassumingly sweet and charming personality still wins you over, even when he's being a jerk to Peggy. Someone needs to give him an Oscar. In supporting roles, there's John C. Reilly, as a blowhard and hunting enthusiast who lives next door to Peggy (and could be the reason Pencil died in the first place); Thomas McCarthy and Laura Dern, as Peggy's concerned but rather uptight brother and sister-in-law; and finally Regina King, as Peggy's saucy workmate, just trying to give her friend a little excitement. Kudos all around.


Mike White also tries his hand at wielding the camera for the first time with Year of the Dog--and much like his minimalist writing style, he keeps the action fairly simple and focused. He seems to love the one-on-one scenes, with his characters sitting across from each other--either in the living room, at a lunch table or a desk--oftentimes with filled with long, uncomfortable (or sometimes very comfortable) silences. Static, yes, but White obviously realizes his movies are more about what's being said (or not being said) than the visuals. He also shows a real talent in guiding his actors to pitch-perfect performances--a very important part of being a good director. Of course, not a lot happens in Year of the Dog, which can be a drawback to indie movies of this ilk. It could be considered a giant bore-fest if you can't connect with people who love their pets way too much. But if you can settle in and really listen to White's quirky but ultimately realistic view on life as its dealt out, you'll really enjoy this stellar effort from the burgeoning filmmaking talent.

Bottom Line rated this film 3 1/2 stars.