Director: Mike White | 97 minutes | drama, comedy | Actors: Molly Shannon, Laura Dern, Regina King, Thomas McCarthy, Josh Pais, John C. Reilly, Peter Sarsgaard, Amy Schlagel, Zoe Schlagel, Dale Godboldo, Inara George, Liza Weil, Jon Shere, Christy Moore
Mike White is best known for his screenplays for small but successful films such as “The Good Girl”, “Orange County” and Jack Black vehicles such as “The School of Rock” and “Nacho Libre”. For “Year of the Dog” he once not only wrote the script, but also took over directing. A wise decision, because “Year of the Dog” is a pleasant, but also moving film, with subtle humor. White knows how to put his qualities as a director to good use, because he knows how to get the best out of his cast. What stays with you most after watching “Year of the Dog” is the strong acting performance. The shining centerpiece – although not literally – is Molly Shannon, an actress who perfectly suited the role of gray mouse Peggy. However, John C. Reilly and Regina King also star in their roles as Peggy’s neighbor Al and Peggy’s cordial colleague Layla, respectively. Laura Dern plays her husband completely off the screen in the film as the obsessively protective mother, who does not want her children to come into contact with difficult things in life like death, but does have a wardrobe full of fur coats.
Peggy has little luck with relationships. Both in love and with friendships she keeps it simple and calm: every now and then she visits her brother and sister-in-law and has short conversations with Layla, who is more than happy to help her find a man. Peggy is most comfortable when she’s with her dog Pencil, a comical beagle. Pencil is her best friend, he sleeps on her bed and sadly watches her get into the car to go to work. Despite her lackluster social life, Peggy is not unhappy, as her love for Pencil is enough. Her sorrow is great when the poor animal dies. Layla claims that the death of her four-legged friend opens the doors to a different interpretation of her happiness, because Peggy’s date with Al is a direct result of Pencil’s tragic death. There is some truth to this statement, but not in the way Layla hopes. Peggy takes on a very different life purpose fueled by her friendship with Newt (Peter Sarsgaard), an animal rights activist.
“Year of the Dog” is slow at times and not much is actually happening. Also, the message White has with his film is not entirely clear, he does not take a position anywhere about animal rights and the people who fight for them. Still, that’s nice, because despite the fact that Peggy regularly crosses the line (forging her boss’s signature, for example), she remains sympathetic. Molly Shannon manages to give her character just that little bit so that the viewer continues to live with her, while her behavior is not always understandable. It is undoubtedly due to the fact that Peggy has built up a lot of credit with the viewer by always having a listening ear for her family and Layla, who, however, do not give home when she needs attention herself. And as strange as you may find Peggy’s life choice, White has succeeded in pointing out to the viewer that the paths taken by her friends and family aren’t even that much stranger … Don’t be put off by the slower pace of the film, when if you like highly acted films about misfits that will nevertheless conquer your heart, ‘Year of the Dog’ is an absolute must!