Year of the Dog
Directed by: Mike White
At one point during Year of the Dog, veterinarian office worker Newt (Peter Sarsgaard), confides to fellow dog-lover Peggy (Molly Shannon), “I’ve always had better relationships with animals than people.” “I can relate,” she responds. In a way, the whole film’s an exploration of the feelings expressed during this exchange. Peggy resembles lonely romantic-comedy heroines from formulaic films gone by—she’s nice, she’s shy, she falls asleep alone with only her dog, Pencil, by her side. We assume Peggy will ultimately realize that she needs human contact, too, and that by film’s close, we’ll see her curl up to watch TV with another shy animal-lover. But writer/director Mike White (The Good Girl) has made a different movie. Pencil dies and Peggy’s left to cope. The messy fallout that ensues doesn’t show Peggy she needs more contact with people, but rather, how profoundly she loves animals. White’s giving a shout-out to devoted pet-lovers everywhere, saying, “Your love is legitimate, too.” However, he also uses the film to explore excessive devotion’s unhealthy result—obsession. It’s not clear whether we’re meant to cheer for Peggy’s self-discovery, or worry about the mental illness that precedes it. The movie that results is flawed, but interesting. And Shannon’s great in it.
Lindsay McCarney

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