by RISHI AGRAWAL
Mike White, best known as a screenwriter for films such as School of Rock and Orange County, makes his directorial debut in Year of the Dog, which he also wrote. This film hearkens back to White’s early work on films like The Good Girl and Chuck & Buck, with ordinary people going through pivotal moments in their life. Year of the Dog concerns Peggy (Molly Shannon), a woman whose dog, Pencil, dies and her corresponding depression.
Peggy is a single office worker who has never had much luck with men. She goes out on an awkward date with her neighbor (John C. Reilly) after Pencil dies, but is turned off by his love of hunting and his knife collection. Peggy also gets a call from Newt (Peter Sarsgaard), who hopes that Peggy will take another dog, to save it from being euthanized. Peggy takes the dog, an overly aggressive and stubborn dog named Valentine, who Newt offers to train. Newt also turns Peggy onto veganism which prompts Peggy to seek out other animal rights causes.
What I like about this film is that it is a new take on addiction. Peggy cannot stop her dedication to animal rights causes even when it gets in the way of her family and career. No one can understand what is happening to her. The film also fakes the viewer out, in a way. Though, at the beginning, you would think that Peggy’s love life will be the center of the film, it gets pushed aside for the animal storylines. If you are tired of films that place a woman’s relationship with a man first and foremost, then this film is a refreshing change of pace.
If you are a dog lover, you will find this film downright adorable. Dogs are prominently featured, and they are shown at their best and their worst. Most of the humor comes from dogs and the supporting cast. The characters in the film, with the notable exception of Peggy, generally fall into somewhat flat archetypes, but they are different enough to be interesting. Besides, the characters benefit from White’s comedic sensibilities, and though the characters may not be unique, they are memorable and funny.
There is a distinct visual style in this movie, one that I am not sure that I like. The sets are purposefully stark and meant to draw your attention to particular objects. The characters speak directly to the camera, and White makes extremely frequent use of cuts.
The middle of the film does sag a little, after the exposition is over and before Peggy’s life really starts to fall apart. The movie meanders a bit while Peggy is still trying to figure out what she wants. Fortunately, the film does pick up a bit in the outrageous and absolutely over-the-top ending. The ending works because it shows how certain behavior can go to extremes, and how little things can snowball into a huge mess. I can imagine that a lot of people would hate this ending, but in certain types of films, most notably crime dramas and films about drug addiction, it is acceptable for characters to make implausible and unrealistic choices in a film. White is simply adopting this technique to a different type of movie.