Sunday, November 18, 2007

Year of the Dog: Grade C

Year of the Dog (2007)
Molly Shannon, Laura Dern, Regina King, John C. Reilly, Thomas McCarthy. Writer-Director Mike White.

Standout acting from Shannon, King, and Dern are the highlights in this sentimental and contrived story. Shannon is an uptight, lonely thirtyish secretary whose beloved pet dog dies. She replaces it with a large German shepherd who has "some behavioral issues,” and a gay/bi animal activist trainer(McCarthy) to “work with” the new dog. Delighted to have an actual human relationship, Shannon goes vegan and becomes an animal rights activist. She is obsessed, ignores her work duties and even steals from her boss to donate to animal rights causes. She never was self-aware, and is oblivious to the discomfort she causes to coworkers (King), and brother and sister in law (Dern) by pressing her obsession upon them. She descends into madness, gets fired, fills her house with stray dogs from the pound, is evicted, and finally attacks somebody (Reilly) with a knife. Playing the madness card is a lazy way for a writer to make a character do something unexpected. But not to worry! She gets therapy, probation, and the boss she stole from even gives her the job back, so everything ends on a happy note. The story thus portrays animal rights activists as mentally ill instead of addressing the genuine issues involved, and it cancels any character development by undoing everything in the last act, leaving us with a net of zero. There are some funny, socially awkward observations, and Shannon puts out some great acting, well worth watching. Dern’s ditzy suburban housewife is a cartoon, interesting for her amazing rubbery face.

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