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USA 2007
Directed by
Mike White
97 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Andrew Lee
2.5 stars

Year Of The Dog

Synopsis: Peggy (Molly Shannon) lives a comfortable existence with her life partner, Pencil. Pencil is a dog. When Pencil dies suddenly, Peggy’s life is cast adrift and she ends up in a series of misadventures with Animal Welfare groups and then more militant organisations.

There’s a fine line between conviction and radicalism and it’s a slippery slope from advocacy to terrorism. This is, oddly enough, the core of this comedy about one woman’s journey into animal activism. It’s an area ripe for skewering too and writer/director Mike White sets about it in an effective way. Peggy is such a sympathetic figure. When she meets Newt (Peter Sarsgaard), a vet’s assistant and animal protection activist, she thinks she’s met a soulmate. Unfortunately, he’s somewhat confused about how to relate to women and seems more interested in looking after animals. So she joins him in taking care of abandoned animals. But it’s not long before she’s looking at animal rescue, vegetarianism and trying to take her niece to see the animals getting slaughtered in order to show her how evil eating meat is.

Molly Shannon does a really good job of showing someone who is quite lovable despite being unbalanced in her desperation to find a place to fit in the world. And her descent into well-meaning madness is easily believable as she shows how easy it is to go from thinking things are right to trying to bully everyone else into thinking the same way. The supporting cast are enjoyable caricatures although nobody really stands out.

The great shame of this reasonably funny comedy is that in skewering the extremes of animal activism it removes all sympathy for their position. The people are insane, stupid or wilfully ignorant. Peggy’s zealotry is funny but while you sympathise and pity her, you’d be hard-pressed to agree with her given some of the terrible things she does. And that undermines the resolution of the film when we are asked to accept that she’s at peace with who she is, that this is what she has chosen to give her life to and that it’s a valid choice. Sure she’s made a choice but we’ve just spent an hour and a half establishing how stupid this sort of thing is when taken to the extremes she and her friends take it to. Year of the Dog starts as an incredibly funny and heartbreaking black comedy, but the pangs of conscience (or the fear of a PETA campaign) that give it such an appallingly incongruous ending ruin it.




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