One of lifes tragedies that we all face is surviving a pet. Thats the subject of this quirky, tender puppy-love comedy by writer Mike White, making his directorial debut.
While shy executive assistant Peggy (Molly Shannon) dutifully puts up with her heartless, spineless boss (Joseph Pais), her sex-obsessed co-worker (Regina King), her obsessive brother (Tom McCarthy) and his fashion-conscious, uptight wife (Laura Dern), she finds herself totally isolated when her precious beagle Pencil strays away and eats something toxic.
Grief-stricken and love-starved, she has dinner with a boorish macho neighbor (John C. Reilly), only to discover that he shot his own dog while they were hunting moose. Then one day she gets a call from Newt (Peter Sarsgaard), an androgynous, vegan animal-rights activist who works at the vet, and he inquires if shes be interested in adopting a rescued dog before the city of Los Angeles puts him down. She is and does but thats only the beginning. Before long, shes inundated with abused, abandoned death-row pooches, only to discover, at long last, what truly makes her happy.
Mike White – who wrote and acted in School of Rock, The Good Girl, Chuck and Buck – hasnt quite decided whether this is a character study of wild-eyed zealotry, a farce or a humorous sitcom, so the pacing is uneven. But Molly Shannons minimalist performance as a distraught woman pushed over the edge is wonderful. After six seasons on Saturday Night Live, she deftly taps into Peggys anguish, desperation and neediness – never giving a hint that, off-screen, shes actually allergic to dogs. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, The Year of the Dog is a semi-satirical, sentimental 7. For dog lovers, it could be a best-in-show.