Year of the Dog

Director: Mike White

Co-produced by a large group including celebrities Jack Black and Brad Pitt, the latest Fox Searchlight film from writer/director Mike White (The Good Girl) is a humorous, melancholy and bittersweet ode to eccentricity in the lives of dedicated pet owners. An excellent Molly Shannon shows viewers her vast range as Peggy, a lonely but hardworking administrative assistant whose spare time is devoted to the love of her life-- her loyal beagle Pencil. When Pencil is discovered dead after accidentally eating poisonous material found in neighbor John C. Reilly’s yard, Peggy suffers from intense post-trauma that’s exacerbated by her new acquaintance with celibate, vegan, and sexual-orientation challenged animal shelter trainer Peter Sarsgaard who persuades the grieving Peggy to adopt a headstrong large dog named Valentine. Inspired to become a vegan, Peggy quickly begins adapting to her new beliefs by becoming an extremely dedicated animal rights activist as she begins forging checks from her boss to help save mistreated animals from slaughter, drowning the many fur products owned by her sister-in-law (Laura Dern) in their oversized bathtub and influencing friends such as cubicle neighbor Regina King (Jerry Maguire) to adopt dogs. The film begins as a melancholy tale of loss, seasoned with bursts of White’s sudden subtle humor but definitely takes a much darker, tragic turn as Peggy’s plight borders on mental instability, however he manages not to steer us too far off course and somehow we’re always reassured that Peggy will find her own way back to what is the right path in her life for herself. Dark, sharply written, yet tenderly acted to perfection especially by Shannon and Sarsgaard (with excellent small turns by King and others), it’s my personal favorite film of the unique auteur so far (after the disastrously creepy Chuck and Buck and uneven but well-acted Good Girl) and one that should appeal to pet owners everywhere.