Movies need not always be uplifting. Comedies don’t always have to be happy. That said Mike White’s Year of the Dog is downright depressing without revealing much of the human condition it strives to.
Peggy (Molly Shannon) goes about her day as an administrative assistant without whining or complaining despite the fact that she’s extremely lonely and disconnected from the world around her. When she gets home she becomes a different woman, becoming the mother to Pencil, her beloved dog and companion. This is all established brilliantly by White in the opening ten minutes. In the eleventh minute everything changes and Year of the Dog spirals into one of the biggest downers of the year.
After the sudden death of Pencil, Peggy delves into a state of depression and delirium. She loses her sense of purpose and, despite a stoic face, happiness. Now even more lonely, the fact that she’s well into her thirties and still single gains an even greater sense of urgency.
Hope appears in the form of Newt (Peter Sarsgaard), an animal activist who convinces Peggy to adopt another dog before he sent to the great dog pound up high. But even as Peggy and Newt develop a stronger bond and things seem to be looking up, the trouble continues. Peggy starts to change her life, becoming an activist for animals. It gets to the point where not only she becomes a strict vegan but she starts cutting checks to various animal charities on behalf of her boss (and with her boss’ money). Peggy alienates herself from her friends and family as her passion becomes an obsession.
Year of the Dog is Shannon’s first real opportunity to lead a film that doesn’t involve a character that originated on Saturday Night Live. Best known for her work on the late-night sketch show and more commonly seen in recent years as a sex-craved alcoholic supporting star, Shannon does a solid job of stepping into the spotlight. She brings to the screen a lot more strength than a lot of the powder puff roles created for women so often.
The problem here is that other than a tacked on voice-over message at, literally, the end of the film, I struggled to find much of a point with Year of the Dog. It felt to me like an exercise in dragging Peggy down as far as she could but not really offering much of a glimmer of as to why.
Year of the Dog DVD Review
Year of the Dog receives a solid but not spectacular DVD release. It’s led by a commentary by writer-director Mike White and Molly Shannon. Given Shannon’s history in comedy, I’d hoped for something a little more lively. “A Special Breed of Comedy: The Making of Year of the Dog” is pretty standard revealing some interesting insights, but it’s a lot of fluff told through the eyes of the cast and movie clips. “Being Molly Shannon” is a short featurette on the film’s star and the journey of her career and through this particular film. In much the same vein is “Mike White Unleashed”, a high-five for the first-time director. The most revealing of the featurettes is probably “Special Animal Unit”, a look at the canine stars and their trainers. There’s seven deleted scenes with optional commentary from White, an insert reel and a three-minute gag reel. There’s also a MovieFone Unscripted interview piece with both Shannon and White conversing. Trailers on the DVD are offered for Next and Blades of Glory. The film is presented in a nice-looking enhanced widescreen format and an equally solid Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. There’s also a Spanish audio track and English and Spanish subtitles.
Year of the Dog Gallery