2 September 2007 | EUyeshima
Self-Discovery and an Alienating Social Conscience Intertwine in One Lonely Woman's Life
It's a woefully uneven film that seems longer than its 97 minutes, yet Molly Shannon brings her particularly individualistic appeal to the role of Peggy, a diffident, socially awkward secretary whose most meaningful relationship is with her beagle Pencil. The attraction is understandable as the dog is adorable and attentive, whereas the people in Peggy's life are too self-absorbed to get past judgment of her solitary existence. As he showed with his script for 2002's The Good Girl, screenwriter and first-time director Mike White has a unique way of presenting characters' idiosyncrasies on screen that seems both bemused and generous. He brings Peggy's quiet desperation and passive acceptance to life with extended shots that seem almost taken from still-life photos. The inevitable occurs, and Peggy's feeling of culpability spirals her into despair groping for what she should do next.
Most of the 2007 film deals with her tentative journey, and while much of the film is driven by character-driven laughs, there is a deepening sense of melancholy with every episode. Toward the final stretch, White unfortunately carries things too far and has Peggy go into extremities before finding her destiny, and her behavior at this point threatens to upend the goodwill generated by what happened before. Regardless, he has assembled quite an impressive cast to inhabit his somewhat askew characters starting with Shannon who manages to convey Peggy's loneliness with surprising subtlety. Consider that this otherwise slapstick comic actress has made her reputation on slapstick, spastic characters like Mary Katherine in Superstar or Val, the obsessive, kleptomaniac neighbor in several episodes of Will & Grace. Instead, her low-key portrayal comes close to Jennifer Aniston's exemplary work in The Good Girl.
Returning from that movie in typical hangdog fashion, John C. Reilly plays Peggy's lunk-headed neighbor who admits to killing his own dog in a hunting accident, a revelation that exposes his fascination with guns and dead animal heads. Regina King is her sassy self though oddly encouraged to play over-the-top as Peggy's sassy office co-worker Layla, whose own relationship with a philanderer unmasks as much desperation as Peggy's situation. Laura Dern is flat-out hilarious as Peggy's sister-in-law Bret, a well-meaning control freak married to overly cautious Pier played by Thomas McCarthy. There's also a funny turn by Josh Pais as Peggy's Dilbert-inspired boss, and Peter Sarsgaard takes a lighter but still bizarre turn than usual as Newt, the passively manipulative, sexually confused dog trainer who really sets off Peggy's darker side.
The 2007 DVD comes with quite a few extras starting with the amusing, off-kilter commentary by White and Shannon. Their chemistry continues in a seven-minute "Moviefone Unscripted with Molly Shannon and Mike White", where the two ask each other questions from Moviefone users. There is the obligatory making-of featurette, the sixteen-minute "A Special Breed of Comedy: The Making of Year of the Dog". Those were satisfying enough, but there are also three additional shorts of only marginal interest - one focusing on the training of the dogs used in the film and the other two brief, four-minute profiles of Shannon and White. One extended and seven deleted scenes are included as well as a three-minute gag reel and a quick photo album of unique images presented as an insert reel.