Earlier this week I saw an advanced screening of Year of the Dog, the new dramedy starring noted cutup Molly Shannon. All her expected mannerisms are gone in a performance that reminded me of Jennifer Aniston in The Good Girl. Nothing great, just pleasantly against type. Mike White wrote both movies, but I have no idea what that says about him.
Peggy (Shannon) is a secretary and dog owner whose life is quickly made emptier when her adorable beagle Pencil dies. (This news is delivered in a straightforward manner, and prompted an ugly exchange in the audience. All I heard was "Sir, have YOU ever had a dog? Or a cat?" I can only guess that the participants differed in their levels of sensitivity.)
As a dog person now without a dog, she finds little comfort in the human world. Everyone seems to have their own obsession: the neighbor (John C. Reilly) with the hunting collection; the coworker (Regina King) who has to get married; the boss (Josh Pais) fixated on compensation; the brother and his wife (Thomas McCarthy and Laura Dern) as the ultimate conscientious parents.
It's Newt (Peter Sarsgaard) who gets Peggy to focus her emotions on pro-animal causes, like pet adoption and veganism. She takes to it slowly, but begins to embrace her role as an activist a little too tightly, crossing all social norms to semi-comical effect. Shannon does fairly well adding elements of overzealous advocacy to her baseline of grief. But Sarsgaard is amazing in his portrayal of a character who is ambiguous in a romantic sense -- you can't get a read on him at all -- but is also completely clear in a moral sense.
While funny in several places, it's not a happy movie by any means. Still, it's one interesting insight into dog people (I'm allergic, as is Shannon) and how they function within our two-footed society.