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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Year Of The Dog

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Year Of The Dog

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Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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Peggy Spade (Molly Shannon) has an adorable beagle named Pencil, who is her constant companion, sleeps in the same bed, shares her hand cream and is the light of her life. Pencil is so named because he is skinny, brown, and can simulate writing with his paw. Although there is no man in Peggy’s life, the little dog completes her.

She is an executive assistant in a nameless corporate entity, where she obligingly brings in donuts to the smiling approval of her co-workers. Her boss, Robin, (Josh Pais) is a humorless baby boomer obsessed with the company pecking order. Peggy’s his rock and trusted sounding board. Her best friend, Layla (Regina King), has a cheating fiancé, Don, (Dale Godboldo) that only Peggy knows about. None of this matters, because at the end of every day, Pencil is waiting for her at home and life is good.

When Pencil escapes from the yard into the next door neighbor’s open garage and is accidentally poisoned, Peggy begins a downward spiral into the world of (gasp!) veganism and animal activism. Her association with veterinarian receptionist and new friend, Newt Erdich, (Peter Sarsgaard), introduces her to the joys of the two “alternative” lifestyles, portrayed here as an acquired taste that’s populated by eccentric fanatics and earnest fools. This new purpose puts her on a mission to convert everyone in her world and beyond.

Neighbor Al (John C. Reilly), full of regrets over Pencil’s demise, sets a date with Peggy, an exploratory foray for both of them. He really likes her, but she cannot fathom his lifestyle: stuffed game on the walls, a cabinet full of knives, and a love of hunting. He especially likes going after endangered species because, you know, “you have to get one before they’re all gone.” His lifestyle is repugnant to her. The date ends badly with Peggy full of enmity for Al. In her mind, he’s the reason for Pencil’s death, not her decision to leave the little dog out all night.

Peggy is romantically interested in Newt, but he is sexually confused and cannot return her carnal desires. After pairing Peggy with an inappropriately aggressive dog, Valentine, Newt adds to Peggy’s increasingly radical behavior in a surprising way.

The transition is slow but irreversible. Vegan treats appear at work. Co-workers’ smiles become vacant and their eyes glaze over when Peggy starts to enlighten them about animals and dietary preferences. Everyone is pressured to adopt a dog, no matter the temperament or circumstance. Blackmail is even used in one case. Animals become her obsession to the point of committing fraud in their name. You can imagine what happens when fur items eventually cross Peggy’s path.

Peggy’s brother, Pier, (Thomas McCarthy), his wife Bret (Laura Dern) and their plastic family smile tightly through her schemes (having farm animals named after them as Christmas presents). A little niece, Lissie, (Amy/Zoe Schlagel) is indoctrinated and traumatized in the process.

Pushy and invasive, Peggy slowly withdraws into delusion, along with fifteen rescued dogs. Breaking several laws, and resorting to guerilla tactics, she is out of control. Al becomes public enemy #1 and must be destroyed. After a dangerous encounter which reveals the extent of her lunacy, Peggy finally gets therapeutic help.

According to the message of the film, there can never be a logical vegan or animal activist. They must all inspire the image of raving lunatics, protein deprived and devoid of common sense. They are the full-fledged, unstable kooks totally off the deep end, hip high in dog shit and proud of it. Poor Peggy is a mess, and the film would have us believe this is understandable because of her newfound beliefs.

Can she be saved? Will she come to her senses, embrace her carnivorous past once again? You’ll find out in a wimpy ending that doesn’t really resolve any previously contested issues.

Writer-director Mike White (The Good Girl, School of Rock) makes his directorial debut here, and some parts of his film are quirky and enjoyable. It’s always good to see a woman who doesn’t actively pursue a relationship with a man. Peggy doesn’t need one before Pencil or after. White has some fun with his characters’ names, too. Peggy Spade (spayed) and Newt Erdich (neutered) for example. He started out on the right (dog) track, but then veered off after some elusive theory that never fully forms into an emotional payoff.

Molly Shannon patiently conveys her ever-changing emotions, showing anger and grief through an excessively wrinkly face. Hers is a (usually) quiet revolution, bordering on passive aggressive coercion. As Peggy becomes more wild-eyed, pulling bigger and bigger escapades which would have been unthinkable at an earlier point in her life, Shannon shows us that she’s capable of both understated desperation and shrill righteousness. Unfortunately the bigger picture is an indiscriminate see-saw in which we want to cheer for our anti-heroine but are forced to reconsider at every turn.

After all is said and done, Year of the Dog is a confused little tidbit that would have done well to stay in its crate.