There is a comfort in having an obsession, in committing oneself entirely to something. And for every obsession, there are niche communities where that obsession is shared — and at least a few people who will deem it silly. The idea that everyone needs at least one thing to pour herself into is the theme of Year of the Dog, a cute movie with plenty of heart and poignant truthfulness.
Molly Shannon plays Peggy, a secretary whose life consists mainly of caring for her dog Pencil, so when Pencil suddenly meets his mysterious demise, Peggy's life starts to unravel. She grieves helplessly, unsure of how to fill her time. Her next-door neighbor Al (John C. Reilly) takes Peggy out on a date, though Peggy is soon repelled by his fondness for hunting. Peggy's girlish friend Layla (Regina King) thinks Peggy should be as obsessed with romance and marriage as she is and pushes Peggy to keep dating. Layla's not the only one with ideas about how to distract Peggy from her loss, though, so read more
When veterinary assistant Newt (Peter Sarsgaard) pairs Peggy up with an abused dog, Peggy delightedly gains both a new dog and a new friend/love interest. After spending time with Newt, Peggy turns vegan and begins campaigning for animal rights. Her wish to save all animals everywhere, however, spins out of control, until she finds herself taking her young niece and nephew to a chicken slaughterhouse. Her new obsessions become all-consuming, and she must learn how to pursue her passions without losing herself completely.
Like Will Ferrell, Molly Shannon seems to understand that if she is as honest as possible, the humor and the pathos will follow, making her performance excellent almost because it's so ordinary. Everyone else does their respective things: John C. Reilly is bumbling and unaware, Sarsgaard's sleepy eyes say all he needs to say, and Regina King infuses each of her scenes with a glassy brightness. Laura Dern is perhaps most noteworthy — and funniest — as Peggy's sister-in-law, so fearful for her kids' safety that overprotecting them is her own obsession.
The movie has a comforting this-is-real-life feel to it, reminiscent of director Mike White's other successful film, The Good Girl, though thankfully Year of the Dog is far less depressing in the end. It won't knock your socks off, but sometimes, you just want to wear your fuzzy old slippers anyway.
Photos courtesy of Paramount Vantage