Review: 'Yearof the Dog' is tragically funny 

Mike White, writer of "Chuck & Buck" and "School of Rock," makes his directorial debut with "Year of the Dog," a low-key, tonally-challenged comedy with a tragic undercurrent that traces one dog lover’s increasingly obsessive quest to save animals.

At first, Peggy (Molly Shannon) comes across as a fairly typical pet-owner whose world, in the absence of any sustained human companionship, revolves around Pencil, her beloved beagle. When Pencil gnaws his way into a bag of poison, Peggy is devastated. What follows is a spiritual journey through the depths of grief that transforms Peggy from a homely secretary with a superficially sunny disposition into a fanatical animal-rights activist whose dedication is self-destructive.

Initially, Peggy is more interested in a relationship with Newt (Peter Sarsgaard), a curiously asexual canine-rescue volunteer, than in his politics and veganism. Hoping to lure him into a romance, she makes an effort to educate herself about animal cruelty and conform to his radical diet.

Newt eventually parts ways with Peggy, unable to offer her the kind of human intimacy she so obviously lacks, but rather than returning to her meat-eating ways, she fills the void in her life with a variety of pet-friendly causes. She begins, innocently enough, by encouraging her co-workers to adopt dogs from Newt’s shelter for strays; soon, she is diverting funds from her boss’s bank account to support fellow activists and alienating her self-absorbed sister-in-law (Laura Dern) by dumping her fur coats in the bathtub.

Peggy’s descent into near-madness is difficult to watch, as her passion for animals rages out of control and threatens to destroy both her career and her few remaining friendships.

White handles her transformation delicately, going to great lengths to make her choices seem less eccentric than they really are, but this is a disturbed individual whose bond with her pets is based less in love than in neediness.

As her behavior grows increasingly over-the-top, "Year of the Dog" veers into considerably darker territory, abandoning all pretense of comedy and focusing instead on Peggy’s bumpy journey of self-discovery. It is an interesting choice, but not a particularly rewarding one: Peggy is a sympathetic character at the onset, but her act quickly wears thin.

The real revelation here is Shannon. As a "Saturday Night Live" alum known primarily for her work in broad comedies like "Superstar" and "Scary Movie 4," she has never had an opportunity to show off her dramatic chops. If anything, "Year of the Dog," uneven though it might be, announces her arrival as a formidable acting talent.

Year of the Dog **

Starring Molly Shannon, Laura Dern, Regina King, Josh Pais, John C. Reilly, Peter Sarsgaard

Written and directed by Mike White

Rated PG-13

Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes

About The Author

Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
Pin It

Speaking of Entertainment

More by Staff Report

Latest in Other Arts

© 2018 The San Francisco Examiner

Website powered by Foundation