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|Year of the Dog|
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E||
dir-scr Mike White|
with Molly Shannon, Peter Sarsgaard, Laura Dern, Regina King, John C Reilly, Thomas McCarthy, Josh Pais, Dale Godboldo, Amy Schlagel, Zoe Schlagel, Inara George, Liza Weil
release USA 13.Apr.07,
07/US Paramount 1h37
Animal lovers: Shannon (with Valentine) and Sarsgaard
Continuing his askew approach to the rom-com, writer White (Chuck & Buck, The Good Girl) moves into the director's chair to deliver a gentle, open-hearted and very funny film.
Peggy (Shannon) lives happily with her beagle Pencil, working as an assistant to an insecure boss (Pais) at a soulless corporation. Her friend and coworker Layla (King) provides stories of romantic entanglement that entertain Peggy without sparking any envy at all. And Peggy's brother and sister-in-law (McCarthy and Dern) provide the family dynamic, complete with a blinding obsession with their kids. When something unthinkable happens to Pencil, Peggy's satisfying life is set adrift, leading to conflicts with her neighbour (Reilly) and a relationship with the animal activist Newt (Sarsgaard), who unleashes a new passion inside her.
The surprise is that this new passion is simply not what we expect. White is subverting the standard movie formula to give us realistic characters who chart their unique route through life, even if it means going against the flow. When Peggy suddenly embraces veganism, it feels like the reasonable product of her love for Pencil, not some reactionary fad. When she tentatively launches a kiss at Newt, our reaction (and his) is both unpredictable and logical.
Shannon is terrific, saying more with her strained smile than most actors do with the meatiest dialog. She somehow manages to be quirky, prickly and likeable at the same time--the kind of person we'd be nice to, but probably keep at arm's length. And no one else follows the rules either, from Sarsgaard's oddly fanatical animal lover to Pais' hysterically subtle nerd. And it's Dern who gets the scene-stealing role; she's fabulous as the protective mother hen who has simply lost touch with reason.
White writes and directs with a wonderfully sunny outlook, keeping the humour bone-dry and the emotion surprisingly realistic. This is a lovely little film about discovering your inner self, the passion that drives you, and then coming out with it. In the end, it's a little unsubtle, but we still feel a pang of understanding (and perhaps jealousy) when Peggy finally asks, rhetorically, "How do I explain the person I've become?"
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© 2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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