Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Mike White
Stars: Molly Shannon, Laura Dern, John C Reilly, Regina King, Peter Sarsgaard, Tom McCarthy, Josh Pais, Dale Godboldo
Screenwriter Mike White (Freaks And Geeks, etc) makes his directorial debut with this whimsical, quirky but often depressing comedy/drama.
Year Of The Dog centres around Peggy (Molly Shannon), a gentle, well-meaning, lonely unmarried woman in her 40’s, whose only real companion is her beloved beagle Pencil. But when Pencil dies after being mysteriously poisoned in her neighbour’s yard, Peggy’s well-ordered life slowly comes apart. Newt (Peter Sarsgaard) is a worker at the local SPCA office, and he convinces Peggy to adopt another dog that he has rescued from the pound. Slowly Peggy also comes to adopt Newt’s vegan life style, and she becomes more and more obsessed with animal rights. Her newfound obsession also begins to alienate her family, friends, and colleagues, and leads her to make some disturbing choices.
Shannon (a veteran from Saturday Night Live, who is also set to star in the US version of local sitcom Kath & Kim) is wonderful as the sad-sack heroine, and she brings a sad, heartbreaking quality to her performance. Shannon receives strong support from and ensemble cast that bring to life some thoroughly unpleasant and unlikeable characters. Laura Dern and Tom McCarthy play her controlling sister-in-law and smug brother; John C Reilly plays her prickly neighbour; Josh Pais plays her dull, workaholic and lonely boss, and Regina King plays her sassy and vibrant colleague Layla.
White’s script doesn’t strive for easy laughs. With its droll sense of humour, its bleak tone, and its well-developed characters, Year Of The Dog has more in common with White’s The Good Girl rather than his hilarious script for School Of Rock, which he penned for his friend Jack Black. However, White’s scenario brings to the screen some well-developed and realistic characters, who are all readily identifiable – they all have their own failings, foibles, and obsessions that mark them as individuals. Despite some laughs, this is something of a downer, and its unrelenting bleakness may not appeal to a broad audience.