YEAR OF THE DOG
Director: Mike White
Screenwriter: Mike White
Producers: Mike White, Ben Le Clair, Dede Gardner
Cast: Molly Shannon, Laura Dern, Regina King, John C. Reilly, Peter Sarsgaard
USA, 2006, 98 min.
*Peggy, a happy-go-lucky secretary who is a great friend, employee, and sister, lives alone with her adorable beagle, Pencil. Peggy and Pencil have a blissful relationship full of love, appreciation, and companionship. One night Pencil wakes up to go potty and unexpectedly sets off a chain of events that change the course of Peggy's life.
Mike White, who has penned such Sundance favorites as Chuck & Buck and The Good Girl, makes an auspicious directorial feature debut at this year's Festival with Year of the Dog, a richly crafted tale of self-discovery that is at once comedic, poignant, and compassionate. White creates a compelling world, populated with his signature brand of funny, off-kilter characters who are endearing and extremely committed to their cause. He elicits insightful performances from a fantastic ensemble cast, including Laura Dern, John C. Reilly, Regina King, and Peter Sarsgaard, but the gem at the heart of Year of the Dog is Molly Shannon's multifaceted portrait of Peggy, a woman who radiates enduring optimism, even in the face of hardship and judgment by others. Altogether, Year of the Dog is a charming and resonant film that will leave you laughing and crying, especially if you are a dog lover.
*Summary by Shari Frilot, SUNDANCE Film Programmer
Mike White’s film, Year of the Dog, is a film that I just could not get into. I thought it had some hateful characters that I could not connect with on any level. For all its running time, the film tried on different genres: the suburban drama, the odd-duck romantic comedy, the kooky thriller. It never found an identity of its own.
I’ll give Molly Shannon some credit. She is completely in character here, never breaking this cranky, creepy woman into easy comedy. I could empathize with her character, Peggy’s, desire to find a man capable of understanding her idiosyncrasies, her inhospitable work environment and her lonely home life. Unfortunately Peggy gets stupid and bigoted. She writes a check from her company for an animal care center and doesn’t even attempt to hide the money transfer. For a woman who has so far been portrayed as smart, albeit strange, it makes no sense for her to do this and then show surprise when she is caught! However, the moment where Peggy really lost me was when she took her sister’s kids to an animal care center and then threatened to take them to see how chickens get slaughtered for food. Peggy’s sister is over-protective of her children, but for Peggy to explicitly disobey a mother’s wishes regarding her own children just struck me as evil. I have problems with people who force their own ideals and values upon others and for Peggy to thrust her values on impressionable children turns her into a villain in my eyes. Unredeemable.
For awhile, the film went dark, as Peggy attempted to stab her neighbor. This I actually liked. It made all her actions absurd and less real. Strangely, I could get behind Peggy when she tries to murder a man, but not when she took the screaming kids to the gates of a chicken slaughterhouse. I think I was more comfortable when the film went dark, as if it were a comic Basic Instinct. Then I felt like I understood the film, when it started being less realistic and more cinematically conventional. What does that say about me and the movies I like? Oh well, consider me someone who loves the conventions and aesthetics of mainstream filmmaking, yet is also trying to take in alternative forms of cinematic narratives present in independent films.
The caliber of supporting actors in this film is mystifyingly tremendous. John C. Reilly, Peter Sarsgaard, Regina King, Laura Dern, etc. I just didn’t like any of their characters. Even though I suspect I wasn’t supposed to like any of them, I would have liked one identifiable character who was allowed to explore more than one character trait. I couldn’t stand this film; I didn’t know where it was going, what it was trying to say, or who I was supposed to identify with. I’ve got to go with 1 Groar, the worst film I saw at this year’s festival.