There was one of them in my office: a never-married, middle-aged woman in love with her dog. A good employee, she was generally liked, and privately, a little bit pitied, because her life, after all, revolved around a dog. In Year of the Dog, Mike White, the writer of Chuck and Buck, The Good Girl and School of Rock, has directed his first movie about this contemporary archetype. In this case, it's Peggy, played with warmth and awkward grace by SNL veteran Molly Shannon. Her dog Pencil dies suddenly, and just like that, Peggy's once full, happy enough life has become bereft.
It's not a particularly funny subject matter, the death of a dog. And The Year of The Dog
isn't funny either. Neither is the film a romantic comedy, though Peggy does go on dates--with the boorish next door neighbor who inadvertently killed her dog (John C. Reilly) and a gender neutral animal lover named Newt (Peter Saarsgard.) The Year of the Dog
is more a film about self-discovery, and making the most of the circumstances at hand.
Peggy's abortive forays into romance are more painful to watch than amusing. Friends and family do not provide much comfort either; every appearance made by Laura Dern, as Peggy's bloated, narcissistic sister-in-law, is cringe-worthy, as are the scenes with Regina Davis as Peggy's man-crazy friend at the office.
White has populated the screen with unhappy characters for what feels like the intent of gentle mockery. Everyone is a target, but Peggy makes it especially easy--first by going vegan, then trying to save a posse of abandoned dogs and the occasional abused chicken. The compassionate ending, therefore, comes as a confounding surprise. Peggy doesn't find a man, nor does she renounce the chickens. She's no fruitcake, however, but a person of integrity: a woman who loves animals. Peggy is an admirable woman, get that, and not to pitied. Or is she? I'm still am not sure. Year of the Dog never finds its voice.