Year of the Dog Mike White

Year of the Dog Mike White
I have the lingering suspicion that Mike White’s impressive directorial debut, Year of the Dog, will mark a career peak for SNL veteran Molly Shannon. I hesitate to make the claim only because I have famously avoided much of Shannon’s work, catching her only in brief, apathetic glimpses. However, Shannon’s deceivingly neurotic comic veneer seems to suggest that there is something darker and desperate behind those sunken, shadowy eyes and that catawampus smile, something that until now has passed unnoticed. With a role written specifically for Shannon, Chuck and Buck scribe Mike White deliberately calls out her deceptive façade to holster a film that is genuinely comical but veers off to some surprisingly disquieting places. Shannon’s character, Peggy, is an attentive ear to her self-absorbed orbit of family and friends, but her sole comfort comes from the devotion of a tiny Beagle named Pencil. But when Pencil suddenly dies and Peggy’s life subsequently begins to crumble, none of her narrow-minded acquaintances, including a hitherto unengaged Bridezilla played by Regina King and Laura Dern’s overly-domesticated suburban housewife, can stay tuned long enough to sustain her. Trying to discover some purpose for her life, Peggy soon retreats to a frustrating romance with a sexually ambiguous dog-trainer (Peter Sarsgaard), and extravagant forms of guerrilla animal activism that make for both hilarious antics and regrettable social criticism on upper-middle-class ignorance. A must for pet owners, Year of the Dog is a rare comedic achievement that demonstrates the mischievous talents of Mike White, whose first outing as a director showcases a lucid vision and an ability to sniff out remarkable performances, particularly from his lead. Shannon’s unclaimed despair is a tree that no dog has pissed on before. (Paramount Vantage)