Year of the Dog (2007)
Year of the Dog (2007)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 37 min.

Release Date: May 11th, 2007 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Mike White Actors: Molly Shannon, Peter Sarsgaard, Laura Dern, Tom McCarthy, John C. Reilly, Regina King, Josh Pais, Christy Lynn Moore

 


 

W

hatever message writer/director Mike White was trying to get across in “Year of the Dog,” he failed. Miserably. Reminiscent of a public service announcement gone horribly awry, this film is a garbled mess of mixed perspectives, cheerless pathology, dreadful cinematography, and a kaleidoscope of meaningless events that just don’t add up to anything or bother to push the story forward.

Peggy (Molly Shannon) does everything with her dog, Pencil. He replaces her need for human companionship and she caters to him every waking moment. When Pencil mysteriously dies of toxic poisoning, her world comes crumbling down. She eventually adopts a new dog, Valentine, an abused creature that requires constant attention. Recommended to her by Newton (Peter Sarsgaard), a veterinary clinic worker, she brings Valentine to his house for training, where she attempts to develop a relationship with Newton as he struggles to correct Valentine’s uncontrollability. In the process, they both wearisomely realize that neither one is comfortable with normal human relationships. As Peggy comes to terms with the fact that the only personifications she can truly depend on are her four-legged friends, she sets about prioritizing her life to best dispense justice to everyone who has meddled with her animal-rights-activist ways.

While this material might interest those who have similar relationship disorders or a general inability to effectively communicate with other people, it simply doesn’t translate well as big-screen entertainment. The major theme here seems to be the culmination and observation of severe dysfunction, which manifests itself in scenes that are difficult to watch, particularly as Peggy sinks deeper and deeper into dementia – right up to the point where she contemplates murder. It’s hard to believe that the melancholy theatrical trailer hoped to persuade audiences into believing that this would be a lighthearted romantic comedy. In reality, there’s almost no humor present at all, and no characters are inserted into the plot purely for comic relief.

But even as a sincere study in psychological deterioration and the negative influences of losing a loved one, the film makes no attempts to be especially meaningful or poignant. At several points, it embarks down a road to nowhere. The overall message of the film is rather ambiguous – or certainly unsuccessful in convincing viewers to feel any specific way – especially concerning the qualities of animal codependence and the importance of preservation. But little sympathy is created for Shannon’s neurotic character, making it even more unlikely that her views on animal treatment will stick.

Clearly, Molly Shannon has stepped outside of the boundaries of comedy and into the murky waters of drama. Like Jim Carrey and Robin Williams, her serious side is much less fun to witness than her slapstick roots. While her acting itself is adequate, she doesn’t bring to the screen anything notably original or heartfelt; the character is scripted to be considerably unnatural, and her performance satisfies that notion. And the supporting roles are comparably tinged with disquieting idiosyncrasies; such a large amount of abnormality from so many core players is dissatisfying at the very least.

Meanwhile, the screenplay is bland and awkwardly paced, which lends to the extreme mediocrity of the end result. And the cinematography grows annoying over time as excessive close-up shots feel conspicuously inappropriate. Every few seconds, the camera is shoved point-blank into someone’s gaping maw. When close-ups are used not to stress an important expression or shocking event, but as a routine camera angle, it fails to create any kind of special impression. Plus, it’s intrusive and distracting. For a project that could have been about cute puppies, “Year of the Dog” decided instead to craft a troubling, depressing slice-of-life drama that has little impact and less amusement.

– Mike Massie

  • 1/10