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Year Of The Dog (2007)

DVD Cover (Paramount)
Genres:
Black Comedy, Comedy Drama, Workplace Comedy
Director:
Mike White Mike White
Starring:
Molly Shannon Molly Shannon
Laura Dern Laura Dern
Regina King Regina King
Tom McCarthy Tom McCarthy
Josh Pais Josh Pais

6.1 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by bluemeanie
Added: September 03, 2007
What a quirky little film. "Year of the Dog" is written and directed by Mike White. This is his directorial debut, but he has written the following: "Dead Man On Campus", "Chuck & Buck", "Orange County", "The Good Girl", "The School of Rock" and "Nacho Libre". He also wrote for television shows like "Freaks and Geeks" and "Dawson's Creek". To sum it up -- the guy knows how to write. For his directorial debut, he has attracted a top notch cast and seems to have learned more than a few things from people like Judd Apatow and Richard Linklater, but owes more of his style to directors like Todd Solondz and Wes Anderson. Mike White might not be the freshest voice in directing today, but this debut is one hell of a start, and it's one of the better films I have seen in 2007.

The film stars Saturday Night Live alum Molly Shannon as Peggy, a normal secretary whose life is turned upside down when her best friend, her dog Pencil, is poisoned and dies. Peggy can't handle her grief, because Pencil really was what kept her life going. At first, she tries going on a date with her neighbor (John C. Reilly), whom she also suspects might have poisoned her dog. She then gets a call from an animal rights activist (Peter Sarsgaard), who wants her to adopt another dog. She does and she and the activist become fast friends and Peggy develops feelings towards him. Unfortunately, they are not returned. Slowly, Peggy starts becoming more and more like her activist friend, becomes a vegan, and even starts donating money to animal rights charities on her boss' behalf. There is also some tension between she and her brother and step-sister (Thomas McCarthy & Laura Dern). The film is basically about Peggy's transformation on the inside and the outside.

This is just a neat little film. It really shows the attachment that people place on their animals and how devastating it can be to lose a pet -- almost like a family member. The music by Christophe Beck seems like it might have been composed by Jon Brion and sounds like it is ripped from a Spike Jonze film, but it fits appropriately with the film. Director Mike White makes sure the film stays interesting and he doesn't let it drag for too long for fear he might lose the audience. Luckily, his writing is so fresh and so crisp that he doesn't have to worry about that. It's one of the better written scripts of the year. I especially love the exchanges between Peggy and her boss (Josh Pais). It only helps to show that Peggy is a person who is crucial in the lives of everyone around her, but doesn't really have anyone crucial in her own life. She's loved, but has no one to love as passionately.

With all of that said, this movie should be Molly Shannon's big break. I have been wishing for the best for her since she left Saturday Night Live, and this film just goes to show how truly talented she is. She never takes Peggy over the top, in anything she does. She always keeps her sweet and grounded and very sympathetic. We like rooting for her character. Shannon shows surprising depth with the role, and her comic timing, of course, is just brilliant. There would have been so many different ways to handle the death of Pencil in this script and Shannon finds the perfect balance. Peter Sarsgaard is also very strong and very funny as her vegan friend, Newt. John C. Reilly gives a very strong supporting performance as the neighbor who just loves to hunt moose. And, Regina King has some bright moments as Peggy's best friend. But, it's Thomas McCarthy and Laura Dern who are real show stealers as Peggy's brother and sister in law.

I really enjoyed "Year of the Dog". It deals with issues that a lot of films avoid. But, at the center, it's really just a film about a woman trying to find her place in the world. Writer/director Mike White has a fine career ahead of him, as a director -- we already know he'll do fine with the writing. I thoroughly recommend this film and think you'll just have a good time watching it. 8/10.
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