Indie god Mike White plays fetch with the dog-lover crowd.
You can count me among one of writer Mike White's cult of fans. Sure, he wrote the disappointing Nacho Libre and the unbelievably boring Orange County, but his movie The Good Girl is everything that is right about independent film.
Combine my reverence for him with my status as a card-carrying dog-lover, and you imagine a sliver of my excitement when I saw he had a new movie coming out, and it was about a woman's slight obsession with her dog. Had he secretly taken me up as his muse? Only a screening would tell.
In Year of the Dog, Molly Shannon (Saturday Night Live, Superstar) plays Peggy, a single secretary who gets all the emotional fulfillment she needs out of her pet beagle, Pencil. When Pencil meets an untimely death, he leaves a devastating void in Peggy's life. No one really understands, and she embarks upon a journey of self-discovery while she figures out how to live without him - dating, becoming a vegetarian, animal activism. But will her new obsessions get the best of her?
Year of the Dog marks White's first time behind the camera, and it is to an interesting effect. This bittersweet comedy is enveloped with his signature quirky, deadpan style - piercingly emotional and funny when you least expect it. Warning though - White also doesn't shy away from the darker side of life, and the scenes where Pencil dies are really heavy.
While there are lots of moments of humor, surprisingly almost none of them are as a result of Shannon's usual antics. Instead, the character of Peggy is a study in stillness; she spends most of her time watching everyone else in her life, more like a vessel for their own ideas than anyone who asserts her own. Shannon seems like quite an unorthodox choice for such a subdued, minimalistic character, but White actually wrote the part for her and she does him proud. Her usually underutilized talent for serious acting as well as his innate understanding of the overlooked people in the world make you understand how even Peggy's most outlandish decisions seem rational and appropriate to her.
The supporting cast (each demonstrating their characters' own more socially acceptable obsessions) are all marvelous in their ability to contribute to this weird world - Regina King (Jerry Maguire, Ray) as Peggy's marriage-crazy coworker, Josh Pais (The Station Agent, A Beautiful Mind) as her nerdily uptight status- and money-motivated boss, John C. Reilly (Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Magnolia) as her Mr. Wrong neighbor, Peter Sarsgaard (Kinsey, Garden State) as her asexual dog trainer/crush, and Laura Dern (Inland Empire, Jurassic Park) as her sister-in-law with an ultra-neurotic mom streak and a totally brainwashed husband (Thomas McCarthy).
Yet, without spoiling the movie, White tends to have this penchant for bringing his characters to this full-circle self-understanding and acceptance. In this case, it somehow provides for a pretty unsatisfying resolution. But still, it got applause from the critics in the theater when it was done.
It's not quite the masterpiece that The Good Girl is, but if you're into quality indies or think that moisturizing your dog's paws with your extra hand cream while watching nighttime TV is totally normal, you'll find it a worthy watch.
What's on the Disc:
Year of the Dog has quite a bountiful array of DVD extras for such a quiet little movie.
In addition to a feature commentary with Mike White and Molly Shannon, there are several featurettes ("A Special Breed of Comedy: The Making of Year of the Dog," "Being Molly Shannon," "Mike White Unleashed," and "Special Animal Unit"), deleted scenes (which are just as sad/cool as the movie), a gag reel (only so-so), and Molly Shannon and Mike White interviewing each other in a Moviephone Unscripted bit.