There's a passage in Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One that lends itself directly to Mike White's Year of the Dog, regardless of where the film runs with this idea. Said by the owner of a pet mortuary to a lowly employee concerning normal funeral homes: "Why wouldn't I be [jealous of] all that dough going to relations they've hated all their lives, while the pets who've loved them and stood by them, never asked no questions, never complained, rich or poor, sickness or health, get buried anyway like animals?" Correctly assuming that as a public we take the love we can't find with humans and bestow it on animals, Waugh's criticism has more than a leg up on Mike White's directorial debut.
Peggy (Molly Shannon
) dotes on Pencil, her puppy, with the affection only rewarded to the luckiest of children from the most spoiling of parents. So, when Pencil gets into some toxic shrubbery and goes, as all dogs do, to heaven, Peggy is inconsolable. Not that there aren't plenty of people who want to help her. Her oafish neighbor (John C. Reilly
) wants to date her, her best friend (Regina King
) wants to set her up with someone, and the receptionist at the vet (the invaluable Peter Sarsgaard
) wants to get her a new dog ASAP. It's the receptionist, Newt, who gets Peggy into veganism and, ostensibly, sends her on a path of social destruction the likes of which are rarely seen. Article continues below
Great comedians don't make great directors, a fact which should be rather evident at this point (Chris Rock
's deplorable I Think I Love My Wife
). White, who is a gifted writer and comedian, sadly can do squat to visually stimulate us the way his script yearns to. Expectedly, the tone of this misbegotten mongrel is rocky, though its structure is akin to White's script for The Good Girl. Shots seem to ape the sub-Solondz polarized dystopia of Jared Hess, but Year of the Dog at least strives for ideas, unlike the aforementioned Napoleon Dynamite auteur.
Molly Shannon, a talented comedian, can't be expected to understand Peggy in her moments of humor or heartbreak, at least not completely. Where Jennifer Aniston
's bored bigamist and Joan Cusack
's repressed rockaholic were clearly defined and vividly portrayed, Peggy is an anomaly of misdirected feelings and frazzled dependency. White can't fully follow through with her emotional trajectory for some reason, leaving the character placidly frustrating but without the sense of intricacy that would make her interesting. Worse still, White's feelings on animal activism and veganism seem indecisive, never really taking a stand on either.
For all the delicate performances that go into Year of the Dog, the end result is more whimper than bark (forget any thought of bite). Let it never go unsaid that a film's disposition isn't helped by a few ridiculously-adorable puppies, but we're not suckers. Year of the Dog has good intentions and a golden heart, but that doesn't take you that far. Don't wince too much; every dog has its day.