Year of the Dog review by Jackass Tom

Molly Shannon doesn’t have it easy as an actress. Many hear her name and immediately think of one of her zany sometimes insecure, sometimes a bit too secure characters from Saturday Night Live. Mary Katherine Gallagher comes to mind for me. Not only is it tough for her to break down that barrier, but in general film actresses are cast by their looks. Not to say Shannon is a woofer, but she isn’t exactly the prototypical model-looking actress. But along comes a little movie called Year of the Dog that allows us to see the more dramatic side of Molly Shannon, a side that might surprise a few viewers.

Peggy (Molly Shannon) is a blends-into-the-background secretary. Her life is very ordinary. She goes to work, lays out a selection of doughnuts, listens to her boss talk work politics, listens to her friend Layla talk about her unfaithful boyfriend, and then goes home to the love of her life…her dog Pencil. Peggy is a dog person. She even lets Pencil sleep on her bed at night. One night, she lets Pencil out for his midnight tinkle, and the little guy doesn’t come back. In the morning she finds the poor fella dead in the neighbor’s yard.

The death of her best friend forces Peggy out of her comfort zone. Depression sets in and everyone offers advice that works for them but nothing seems to help her. Her personal void is filled by new relationships, new dogs, and new habits but most of these are only fillers. She starts out on a journey of self-discovery where she finally separates what is truly important to her from what is unnecessary duty in her seemingly normal life.

This is Mike White’s directorial debut. White wrote a number of comedies of imperfect heroes going through a self-discovery mission including School of Rock, Nacho Libre, The Good Girl, and Orange County. (Lots of Jack Black titles). Of those movies, the one that is most similar in feel and style to Jared Hess’s Nacho Libre which has a lot of strictly framed shots. There is definitely a Hess influence. There are also a lot of long POV shots, where one of the characters will speak into the camera as if it were one of the other characters; the affect being that it draws the viewer closer to the tight little world within the film.

Whatever your stance was on Molly Shannon’s SNL comedy, you should bear in mind that it shouldn’t influence your opinion to see this movie. Shannon plays against the SNL break a leg to get a laugh type in choosing the role of a fairly grounded wallflower. Instead of playing up for physical comic-style laughs she is giving a more nuanced performance that is a bit more pleasing to the non-Shannon fan. Its not going to get her an Academy Award (not that they mean anything anyway) but it should give her more consideration in movies that don’t show Will Ferrell’s ass. Laura Dern also has a supporting role as Peggy’s sister in law who is shelter’s her children from all that is bad in the world to a ridiculous degree. Peter Sarsgaard maybe the best of all of them, in his role as Newt. The delicate animal shelter activist has passion for pets that is rooted deeply into a sad abusive past. All of the characters are well acted and transfer well into the real world.

So in the end is Year of the Dog a great movie? Well its not a movie I would seek out repeatedly. Once is enough. It’s a small film about quirky people and is executed well by the first time director, long time writer but its not going to set your cat on fire. It has a pleasant ending and a hits home a strong point, not about loving dogs, but more about finding what you love in life and doing that in place of a steady life draining 9 to 5. All parts executed well but nothing landmark. Year of the Dog recommended for indy movie lovers; others may not enjoy the quirks.

6 out of 10 Jackasses
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