Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Year Of The Dog

Year Of The Dog is another quirky film written and directed by Mike White. This is a niche film which failed to create mass appeal. Because of limited release, this film did not even manage to generate 2 million dollars in box office revenue. This film is a far cry from the film White wrote prior to this, Nacho Libre. While Nacho Libre was certainly quirky, it possessed a different sort of appeal. Nacho Libre did far better at the box office (where I saw it), but did not have the intellectual element that Year Of The Dog contains. In short, this film is funny on a different level yet still engaging. If you like cheap humor then White’s Nacho Libre is for you. If you don’t mind a slower paced more cerebral type of comedy then you may find yourself enamored by Year Of The Dog.

Year Of The Dog tells the story of Peggy Spade (Molly Shannon), a single woman who lives at home with her coddled dog Pencil. Pencil meets a tragic end early in the film which sets about a chain of events that includes a slow downward spiral for Spade. It looks like the death of Pencil might lead Spade to find true love, first with her neighbor (Al…played by John C. Reilly), whose extensive knife collection and penchant for killing animals eventually grinds her down. Spades ends up looking for another pet and ends up meeting Newt (Peter Sarsgaard). Spade slowly allows herself to become interested in Newt, but the feelings are not necessarily mutual. It seems as if Spade has come out of her shell and is making great progress when things turn bad. Really bad. Spade starts becoming an Animal Rights activist after Newt introduces her to a Vegan lifestyle. This slow process ends up consuming Spade who begins donating her boss’s money to charity and adopting rescued animals for her niece and nephew for Christmas. Spade ends up fired and estranged from her family. Upon hitting rock bottom, Spade makes some really bad decisions. She eventually recovers and repairs her relationships before discovering her calling in life.

Year Of The Dog is a simple story. Not necessarily simple in a bad way. It is simple in the sense that it explores the processes of loss and recovery. It examines self discovery and the growing pains that accompany it. The characters in this story are idiosyncratic. They have unique peculiarities that make them engaging. The characters are also multi-dimensional. When we are first introduced to the characters we get a feel for their personality. However, several of the characters demonstrate another side of their personality by the time the film is complete. The characters do not lose any integrity by showing other facets, but instead appear more complete and credible. We get insights into people we know, too. The protective mother, the knife fanatic, the animal lover, the corporate ladder climber. Within these character examinations we get dimension rather than stereotype, which makes the story more believable. The dialogue has rich wording, without becoming portentous. The plot evolves at a slow pace which may have been an area for improvement. However, this is not an action film, so the pacing was limited somewhat by the context.

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