Year of the Dog **1/2

Posted: April 20, 2007

Written and directed by Mike White. With Molly Shannon, Regina King, Josh Pais, John C. Reilly, Peter Sarsgaard. 1 hour, 37 mins. PG-13 (mature themes, profanity) Distributed by Paramount Vantage.

In Year of the Dog, Molly Shannon, button-eyed and purse-lipped, resembles Julia Louis-Dreyfus' wan sister, earnest rather than ironic, timid rather than bold. What animates Peggy (Shannon) is . . . animals. Specifically her beagle.

Pencil and Peggy are the perfect couple, an ideal of mutual understanding. In the opening sequences of this directorial debut by screenwriter Mike White (The Good Girl, Chuck and Buck, School of Rock,), the passive woman and her playful dog have a serene rapport. Peggy provides and nurtures, Pencil capers and loves. There is no discord. When tragedy strikes, it rips Peggy's heart. A replacement pet does not heal this dogaholic. The possibility of saving all creatures does. Absurdist humor or animal activism? You decide.

White's movies offer the quiet spectacle of how an apparently unbalanced character goes about rebalancing his or her life. The filmmaker's tone and visual style are deadpan comic but his message is dead serious.

Shannon is flawless. Among humans, Peggy is pinched and awkward. But among animals, she is relaxed, achieving a state of grace.

White's anatomy of Peggy's radicalization from pet owner to animal advocate wasn't for me. Peggy's transformation from milquetoast to militant felt too abrupt.

White's humanist account of a woman more comfortable with animals than people is another intricately crosshatched sketch in his gallery of outsiders.

- Carrie Rickey

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