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Year of the Dog

Here’s a quirky comedy for dog lovers (which is to say, all right-thinking people) starring comedienne Molly Shannon as a middle-aged cube-dwelling singleton, Peggy, who’s never had any luck finding a man nearly as good as her sweet little beagle, Pencil.   When Pencil dies unexpectedly, Peggy is left to look for love amongst her own species.   Things that seem to come naturally to most people, don’t for her.   Though alienated from the human mainstream, she’s not freakish; in this sense she’s a departure from the outlandishly geeky types that I hear Shannon used to play as a cast member of Saturday Night Live (I’m actually not familiar with her SNL work, though I’m told she was a riot).   This is the role she was born to play: much of the film is composed of close shots of her lined face with its huge grin verging on grimace, her eyes registering vague worry, slight desperation.   To play the baffling humans surrounding her (dating prospects, co-workers, siblings), the film enlists ace character actors like Jon C. O’Reilly, Peter Sarsgaard, Laura Dern, Josh Pais and Regina King.            

“Year of the Dog” is another smartly written feature from Mike White (“Chuck & Buck”, “School of Rock”), and his first as director.   Modest and slight, the film is nonetheless quite an emotional experience, showing not only the comfort and companionship that loving a dog can bring, but also the heartbreak.   For a lightly comic piece, it has a surprising tendency to allow real life in.   Peggy’s accumulating disappointments are rendered in quietly aching moments, such as when, while perusing the Christmas cards from family and friends displayed on her sister’s refrigerator door, Peggy discovers her own holiday card—a portrait of herself and Pencil—mixed in with the cards on the side rejected for refrigerator space.   Tellingly, White treats Peggy’s burgeoning veganism and animal-rights zeal in a gently satiric but ultimately sympathetic manner, as a manifestation of her caring nature.   “Year of the Dog” is refreshingly free of mainstream assumptions about what finding one’s place in life might entail.

- May 28, 2007

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