YEAR OF THE DOG
**** (out of 5)
April 27, 2007
Molly Shannon as PEGGY
Laura Dern as BRET
Regina King as LAYLA
Thomas McCarthy as PIER
Josh Paid as ROBIN
John C. Reilly as AL
Peter Sarsgaard as NEWT
Studio: Paramount Vantage
Directed by: Mike White
BY KEVIN CARR
I will always have a special place in my heart for “Year of the Dog.” It’s not just that I love dogs, although I do. But rather it’s because “Year of the Dog” is about my sister.
Oh, it’s not written about my sister specifically, as I doubt that Mike White has ever met her. However, after seeing the movie, he must have known someone very much like my sister because this film tells her story very well.
I haven’t told my sister this yet. I suppose she’ll find out about this when she reads this review. And I imagine that I’ll have an email or voice mail in the next couple days from her. Hopefully she won’t be offended in me “outing” her as a real-life version of Molly Shannon from the film.
The movie follows a good-hearted woman named Peggy as she spirals into dog insanity. At first, her life is beautiful. She shares it with her pooch, a little beagle mix named Pencil. However, tragedy strikes one day when Pencil escapes and mysteriously dies. This sends Peggy’s world into a tailspin. As she tries to recover, she begins to foster and adopt other dogs, become a vegan and bring the message of animal cruelty to friends and family.
I say that writer/director Mike White must know someone like this because he nails the characteristics of animal champions perfectly. And while much of the film is presented with tongue firmly in cheek, it’s not making fun of these people. In a strange way, “Year of the Dog” is their movie. It should speak to them.
However, I do caution intense animal lovers from seeing this movie, as well as families who want to bring the kids because it might be a cute dog movie. The subject matter in the film is not always clean and squeaky. There’s plenty of references to sex, and the ugly side of the pet world is shown, like euthanasia and mauling. These aren’t graphic depictions at all, but the subject matter is there, so I wouldn’t bring the young kids unless you want to explain to them about such things on the way home.
It’s not often that I find a film that has all of its bases covered. The writing is sharp and clever. It’s often hysterically funny and sometimes tragically grim. It helps that the film has a cast well suited to their roles. No one is a headliner or A-list star, so no one tries to steal the show. The actors are generous to each other and allow the comedy to emerge from the script and the story.
Molly Shannon takes a remarkably serious turn from off-beat supporting roles that we’ve seen her do in so many other films. “Year of the Dog” proves that she can carry a movie and give the dramatic performance needed for a headlining role. Other great performances come from John C. Reilly as Peggy’s redneck, hunting neighbor and Peter Sarsgaard as a would-be lover in the pet world.
The beauty of a film like “Year of the Dog” is that it’s made with heart. It reveals how the crazy dog lady gets to where she is, but it treats her journey with sympathy and respect. Sure, the movie pokes fun at some of the nuttier aspects of the life of a zealous animal lover, and there seems to be a little preaching from the PETA planks, but it all fits within the confines of the story and makes complete sense.
“Year of the Dog” is a warm movie with a lot of love, but it never pulls its punches.