Mike White has a specific style of writing that somehow manages to poke fun without losing touch with reality. The result is often a melancholy sense of humor, sometimes dark but honest above all else. Year of the Dog marks White’s turn at directing his own script, though the scripts he has written for others have been fantastic. White uses the same sensibilities that have often been applied to his other scripts by other directors, with many similarities to Chuck and Buck in terms of aesthetics. What is even more impressive is the entourage of fantastic actors willing to be in the film. Molly Shannon alone gives such a dedicated and honest portrayal of a sincerely lonely woman, setting aside all slapstick and humor that she is normally known for. This is a comparable film with Punch-Drunk Love in terms of the opportunity it offered Adam Sandler. Granted Year of the Dog is not to be held to the same standards, especially considering the large ensemble films Paul Thomas Anderson had already made, but
is certainly as dedicated to playing the role completely straight.
Peggy (Molly Shannon) appears to be a fairly content person in her life, happy to go about her business at work and with her friends as long as she has her dog Pencil to return home to. Even as her brother and sister-in-law, who is played by a wonderfully anal Laura Dern, flaunt their children in her face Peggy doesn’t even seem to mind being single. Pencil is a companion to her day and night, even sleeping beside her. We see their routine enough to know that when Pencil leaves the bed to explore outside one evening it can only end badly for him. Peggy is crushed by the loss of her only companion and her mood is not elevated by friends, family or work. At the same time she finds that the death of her dog brings her all sorts of new opportunities.
When searching for her dog Peggy bothers the man living next door (John C. Reilly), who asks her on a date afterwards. Not having Pencil to hold her back anymore Peggy finds herself in new situations, dating with all of the quirks that come attached. Another man brought into Peggy’s life by the incident when she receives a call to adopt a dog from a worker (Peter Sarsgaard) who was there when Pencil was brought in. Peggy develops a crush and takes the hobby of getting homes for dogs as well as changing her lifestyle to vegan. Every choice she makes is meant to lead to satisfaction and happiness but ultimately people disappoint her.