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YEAR OF THE DOG

SYNOPSIS:
Loner Peggy's (Molly Shannon) world comes crashing down when her beloved pet Beagle, Pencil (Jimmy) meets a mysterious demise in her neighbour's (John C. Reilly) yard. Pencil was her only true friend, and Peggy finds it hard to adjust, even when she meets animal carer Newt (Peter Sarsgaard), who introduces her to the world of animal welfare. Horrified by the cruel treatment of some animals in farms and laboratories, Peggy transforms into a crusader. Her colleague Layla (Regina King) tries to encourage her to find a man, and her brother Pier (Thomas McCarthy) and his over protective wife Bret (Laura Dern) also try to help in their limited way, but Peggy has to find her own path - after some stumbling.

Review by Louise Keller:
Animals are like us - they live for love, says Peter Sarsgaard's animal rights activist Newt. But after Peggy (Molly Shannon) loses her beloved beagle Pencil, she valiantly begins searching for something or someone to fill the void. The discovery of the love of your life is the focus of this unusual film, whose tone flits from the heartfelt to the flippant to the darkly philosophical. As a result, our emotions are scattered here there and everywhere, despite a few engaging doggie moments and a couple of interesting character snapshots.

Everyone dumps on Peggy. At work, there's her insecure boss Robin (Josh Pais) who needs constant reassurance; her sassy best friend Layla (Regina King), who is trying to make her ladies' man boyfriend Don (Dale Godboldo) commit; her peace-loving brother Pier (Thomas McCarthy) and fur-loving wife Bret (Laura Dern), who are obsessively protective of their two young children. Pencil's untimely death becomes the catalyst for change, as Peggy searches for some meaning. Suddenly there are two men in her life - and neither is what she expects. Her neighbour Al (John C. Reilly) has a penchant for hunting moose, and seems to come alive when talking about his adrenalin rush before the kill. On the other end of the scale, animal obsessed Sarsgaard's Newt seems to loves everyone - men, women and animals. She discovers he is aptly named, however.

Shannon delivers an endearing pivotal performance as the toothy, middle aged vegan-spinster who goes from no-love to too-much-love in a matter of weeks. The dogs are cute, and I chuckled when Peggy drives 15 canine friends from the pound to her tidy (but not for long) apartment, which they promptly take over. I also like Dern's performance as the superficial, hypocritical wife who shelters her children from life's harshness. But despite writer director Mike White's ability to make the heartfelt moments count (we acutely feel Peggy's devastating loss), the film never makes the grade. The title prompts great expectations for animal lovers; the result is a bit like a doggie bag with a taste of everything, but not enough of anything.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Whatever it is that Mike White is trying to say in Year of the Dog remains hidden in a film that defies all attempts at being understood. And you certainly can't call it simply escapist entertainment - unless referring to my desire to escape from the film. The story of a spinster (and the word really suits Peggy) whose only output of affection is for her Beagle, Pencil (he was thin as a puppy, and brown), is certainly not predictable. After Pencil's death, Peggy discovers animal welfare and throws her energies into it, even going so far as forging a cheque with her boss' signature to send to an animal rescue farm. But all the while she suspects her quiet and attentive neighbour Al (John C. Reilly) - who incidentally is the only appealing character in the entire film - of having caused Pencil's death. This issue remains a corrosive element throughout film, since it is evident that she is wrong about him.

And while she steals from her firm, which hardly puts her morals in a straight line, we never see her write a cheque of her own. There is a bizarre sequence in which she becomes interested in Newt (Peter Sarsgaard), and spends some time looking at photos of Newt with a woman, a man and with a dog. Newt finally admits that he's not able to have a relationship with her - or anyone else. He's celibate (Newt, geddit?) - and he's also a vegan. Peggy instantly converts to celibate veganism, despite the rebuff.

When Peggy insists on adopting 15 dogs from the city pound who are to be put down that evening, the film spirals into a deeper abyss where Peggy seems to have lost her reason, and allows the animals free reign to demolish her house and agitate neighbour Al with the incessant barking. By now we are pretty fed up with Peggy ourselves. But unappealing characters aside (and Laura Dern deserves an award for her portrayal of the obsessive protector mum), the film has no coherent plot, no dramatic tension and no meaningful observations about human nature. Peggy's boss, played in slowmo by Josh Pais as if expecting to be in a droll comedy, adds to the confusion simply by being a recurring part of the script. He's only needed for a forged signature.

The film dithers between crude attempts at comedy on one hand, and animal rights crusading on the other. Neither works.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 1
Mixed: 1

YEAR OF THE DOG (M)
(US, 2007)

CAST: Molly Shannon, Peter Sarsgaard, Regina King, John C. Reilly, Laura Dern, Jimmy the Dog

PRODUCER: Mike White, Jack Black, Dedde Gardner, Ben LeClair,

DIRECTOR: Mike White

SCRIPT: Mike White

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Tim Orr

EDITOR: Dody Dorn

MUSIC: Christophe Beck

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Daniel Bradford

RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount Australia

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 11, 2007







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