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Paramount Home Video presents
Year of the Dog (2007)

"Vegan. It's nice to have a word that can describe you. I've never had that before."
- Peggy (Molly Shannon)

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: September 05, 2007

Stars: Molly Shannon
Other Stars: Laura Dern, Regina King, Tom McCarthy, Josh Pais, John C. Reilly, Peter Sarsgaard
Director: Mike White

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for suggestive references
Run Time: 01h:36m:52s
Release Date: August 28, 2007
UPC: 097363479642
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Andy Rooney once said that the average dog is a nicer person than the average person. Mike White's Year of the Dog is about a woman who feels like her dog is the only person. Peggy (Molly Shannon) is the office wallflower. Most of her co-workers seem to register her as little more than the lady who brings them donuts every week (for which they thank her awkwardly). Her boss (Josh Pais) complains to her that he's not getting any credit from the higher-ups, and in the same breath demeans her with statements like, well, this bonus seems like a lot of money to you, but you don't have my degrees.

That's OK with Peggy, though, because she'd rather spend quality time with Pencil, her beagle, who occupies her time and her bed. The two go to the dog park together, and eat together, and take drives. We get the idea that it has been quite a while since Peggy has really even talked to a person (her one human friend, played by Regina King, fills up most of the dead air anyway), preferring the trusting admiration of her canine friend.

The problem with devoting yourself to your pets is, of course, that they usually aren't going to outlive you. Tragically, Pencil dies one night after ingesting some poison, and Peggy is set adrift. She can't stop crying at work (even when her clueless supervisor offers her an early Christmas bonus as a pick-me-up), and a half-hearted attempt to go on a date with a neighbor (John C. Reilly) ends disastrously when he tries to kiss her even as she searches his garage for the poison that might have killed her dog.

An initially promising relationship with Newt (Peter Sarsgaard), a fellow dog lover, goes quickly south when he turns out to have as much trouble relating to the two-legged as Peggy (we're not sure about his sexuality, either, especially after he confesses to a dream in which he's assaulted by a pair of canines). Even the dog he talks her into adopting turns out to have behavior problems, biting the hand that feeds him, and worse (this movie will set off dog trauma alarms more than once, so fair warning if you're the sensitive type). Nevertheless, Peggy's eyes are opened to the suffering of all living things, and she quickly becomes a vegan, begins obsessively researching animal rights, and takes her niece to visit the chickens at a farm that rescues animals from slaughterhouses.

This is Mike White's first film as a director, but it strongly recalls some of his earlier scripts (particularly The Good Girl) in its unsteady balance of dark humor, cartoonish characters, and genuine pathos. He's an acquired taste, but I think he's done a nice job toning himself down here—the only characters that seem like they're in a Mike White film are Peggy's hapless brother-in-law (Thomas McCarthy) and his wife (Laura Dern), who has a mad gleam in her eye as she plays an overprotective suburban mother stereotype who worries that a good-hearted family film like Babe might be too intense for her school-age daughter. White is steadier behind the camera, infusing a film about a woman who feels trapped in her job and her life with claustrophobic framing.

Peggy's journey of self discovery is ultimately freeing, but maybe not quite so satisfying for the audience, as she displays a lot of odd behavior on the way, enough that the movie starts feeling a little bit like a parody. The tipping point for me? When she has a breakdown at a dog pound and winds up adopting 15 animals scheduled to be put down, then drives home with all of them in her tiny car at the same time. Molly Shannon's performance, free of the overbearing qualities that made her a standout on Saturday Night Live, goes a long way toward making up for the odd behavior, though—she steps outside her comic persona to inhabit a troubled character. If her ultimate decision to love life—all life—and subsequent actions don't seem realistic, Shannon, in her first real dramatic film role, makes them believable.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: A nice-looking, if slightly soft, transfer for this low-budget picture. Colors are bright, detail is good, and I noted little grain.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 mix does it's job. This is a very undemanding, dialogue-based film and that element is certainly well translated. Nothing much more to say.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
7 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
3 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by writer/director Mike White and actress Molly Shannon
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Gag reel
  2. Insert reel
Extras Review: Year of the Dog is one of those DVDs with lots of features that add up to very little. I don't think you'll get much out of them even if you really like the movie. But some of them are OK.

The commentary track with writer/director Mike White and Molly Shannon isn't bad—the two have a nice, low-key chat about making the movie together, working with the animals, all of the actors... typical commentary stuff.

There's a 16-minute making of featurette that's straight out of the promotional handbook, full of film clips and explanations of the story and characters in lieu of any actual "making of" material. Shannon and White get their own featurettes, which run about four minutes and consist of nothing but the actors describing how great they are. The two share a brief Q&A (of material covered in the commentary, no less) drawn from something called Moviefone Unscripted. The one piece with a promising premise, Special Animal Unit (03m:44s) is far too short to say much of anything about the training process for the film's many dogs.

Seven deleted scenes (11m:51s) are included with optional commentary from the director. All of them are interesting enough, but don't say much that wasn't included in the film as it stands. Um, except for the one where Shannon's boss tells her how he effectively euthanized his elderly grandmother. Weird.

A brief but cute gag reel reveals that one scene featuring doggie doo was faked (that answers that). And I quite liked the Insert Reel, a quick compilation of every insert shot in the film—you know, when a character will be shown reading a book and we get a quick shot of the page she's staring at. Stuff like that. An odd, amusing inclusion.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

A funny, sad portrait of a woman who can't connect with people but finds strength in the loving gaze of a canine, Year of the Dog is not a happy puppy story, but another melancholy portrait of disaffected outsiders from writer Mike White.


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