Talking Movies

September 8, 2019

From the Archives: Year of the Dog

Digging in the pre-Talking Movies archives throws up this forgotten tale of lonely office worker Peggy (Shannon); devastated when her dog dies, but her life changes when a vet (Sarsgaard) offers her a dog to adopt.

Mike White is a gifted comedy writer. He has penned School of Rock, Orange County and Nacho Libre as well as the more serious dramedies The Good Girl and Chuck & Buck. So when you hear that he’s assembled an interesting cast for his directorial debut your expectations get raised ever so slightly. Which is what makes Year of the Dog such a terrible let down. Things start off promisingly enough as we’re shown the empty life of office worker Peggy (Molly Shannon) whose best friend is really her dog Pencil, who promptly dies of toxic poisoning leaving Peggy distraught. But that unexpected emotional punch makes it obvious that we have been sold a pup by the misleading trailer. Peter Sarsgaard arrives as the big romantic lead…and announces he’s celibate owing to the trauma of childhood abuse. That’s a good summary for how far this film is from the advertised sweet romantic triangle between Peggy (Shannon), Al (John C Reilly) and Newt (Sarsgaard); dog lovers all.

White’s script infuriatingly introduces a host of horrible people who could be the stuff of comedy and then refuses to do anything funny with any of them. John C Reilly dunders around as the loutish next door neighbour but then disappears. Laura Dern makes your skin crawl as Peggy’s sister-in-law who treats her children as if she’d read Howard Hughes’ guide to parenting but is given little screen-time. Regina King (Layla) is given the joyfully offensive line; “I believe there is someone in this world for everyone, even retarded cripple people get married”; but precious little else to flesh out Peggy’s best friend. All of these characters are thrown away in favour of focusing on Peggy’s journey towards becoming a vegan, or a nutjob which is how she turns out, which is ironic given that writer/director White is a vegan.

It’s hard to watch someone betray their family and friends, commit cheque fraud, lose their job as a result and adopt 15 dogs from the city pound and accept it as a spiritual epiphany. White lamentably falls into the Hollywood cliché where the mechanics of what happens next is conveniently never explained. If she’s unemployed, and for a reason that makes her unemployable, where does Peggy get the money to pay her rent let alone her dog food bills? It’s hard not to think these are really the first steps to homelessness, which is a disquieting thought when you’re meant to be cheering along Peggy the newly minted animal rights activist. Year of the Dog ends up in the nightmare pitfall of dramedy where there’s enough sweetness to keep you watching in the hope of a joke popping up again fairly soon (which it probably won’t) but not enough dramatic meat to make you believe in these characters as real people. A dog of a debut…

1/5

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