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  Year of the Dog Canine Crazy
Year: 2007
Director: Mike White
Stars: Molly Shannon, Laura Dern, Regina King, Thomas McCarthy, Josh Pais, John C. Reilly, Peter Sarsgaard, Amy Schlagel, Zoe Schlagel, Dale Godboldo, Inara George, Lisa Weil, John Shere, Christy Moore, Audrey Wasilewski, Brenda Canela, Craig Cackowski
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Fortysomething Peggy Spade (Molly Shannon) works as a secretary in an office where everyone gets along, but she really has no social life to speak of outside of her friend Layla (Regina King), a co-worker, and she certainly has no love life to speak of, finding the whole dating scene a turn off. What she does have is her dog Pencil who she dotes over, as he is her pride and joy, a friendly pooch who she would take everywhere if she could. But one night she awakens to find him wanting to be let out, and when she does so, it is an action she will sorely regret...

Mike White had made his name as a producer, writer and actor in distinctive movies often with an indie flavour before he came to this, his directorial debut. It was a film that took animal rights as its subject, but not so much concentrating on what the effect was on the creatures, and more about the effect on the humans as Peggy grows more and more obsessed with looking after animals, becoming a crusader for the cause. She does this because Pencil is found dying in her neighbour's garden that fateful night, and the vet tells her once he has passed on that it was due to him eating some kind of toxic poison.

Poor Peggy is distraught, having lost the best friend she ever had in terrible circumstances, and this is what triggers her personality change into what amounts to madness. The grief of losing the dog hits her far more than is healthy, and she starts to compensate for her loss by looking to take care of every animal in the world, especially as she cannot find love with any men in her life, not her neighbour (John C. Reilly), a passionate hunter (so that's a no-no) or the vet assistant Newt (Peter Sarsgaard) who changes her views on animals but does not respond to her faltering advances. It is Newt who gives Peggy another dog, this one a rescue pet that is utterly unsuitable for her.

Although you might spend most of this thinking White was making fun of animal lovers, he is actually a vegan, so was bringing this story from a place he was all too familiar with, as if being self-critical by putting Peggy through all this trauma. It's not as if we are not supposed to like her, it's just that every person she encounters cannot connect with her the way that Pencil did, no matter how well-meaning they are, with her brother (Thomas McCarthy) and sister-in-law (Laura Dern) more interested in mollycoddling their children, and Layla wrapped up in her man who Peggy has seen with another woman, and Newt more absorbed in his pets than any person.

So Peggy is essentially flailing around in the wake of people who like her, but cannot supply what she needs, and she thinks that animals are where she can find that bond. Which was true with Pencil, but her new dog is frankly a danger to her and everyone else and should have been destroyed, and now she is preoccupied with helping sanctuaries and animal causes she gets into hot water, making out cheques from her harrassed boss (Josh Pais) to those charities without him knowing, and being guilt tripped into turning vegan, while similarly trying to persuade everyone else to do the same, much to their indifference or even distaste.

White recognises how shrill these people can be when faced with those who are more practical in their approach to our furry or feathered friends, but with Shannon excellent in the lead he never loses sight of the fact that Peggy has been damaged emotionally, and there are quite a few moments that we feel very sorry for her even as she makes terrible decisions. Actually, with every character hopelessly unaware of each other and indeed themselves, you could see Year of the Dog as more scathing of the human race in general rather than Peggy in particular. Will she attain that happy medium between the unconditional love of animals, if that's what it is, and her need for someone to have a conversation with? White is optimistic in a tale that's a little too undernourished, if oddly didactic (not only about animals, however). Music by Christophe Beck.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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