Every office has one. Peggy Spade (Shannon) is that co-worker who always seems to be up. You know the kind. Always smiling even when there are a lot of crappy things going on around her, she walks through life oblivious to it all. Now don’t get me wrong. These people do have their uses and can often relieve the stress of a particularly bad day. I mean, don’t you feel a little better after just a minute or two of putting your hands around their throat and squeezing just a little? Alas, I digress. What is the source of Peggy’s blissful nature? It’s none other than Pencil, her faithful pet dog. Pencil is her emotional center, leaving her quite awkward around most humans. Unfortunately for Peggy, Pencil gets out one night and into a bag of a “toxic poison” (Isn’t that redundant.) Quicker than you can say Michael Vick, Pencil is gone. When Pencil goes to that doggy pound in the sky, Peggy becomes depressed that is until she meets Valentine, a German shepherd with a maladjusted personality of his own. She also begins to relate to the man who introduces her to Valentine as well as a PETA-like pro-animal movement. Peggy becomes a radical, and it nearly destroys her life.
If you come to the film expecting a cozy little dog film you can cuddle up with, you will be disappointed. Having a stubborn Siberian Husky myself, I am almost always suckered into pretty much any film that has dogs in it. I even converted my wife. A long standing cat person, she fell in love with the puppy dog eyes of a pointer mix. That should tell you that I am predisposed to like most dog films. I wish I could tell you I liked Year Of The Dog.
This is Mike White’s first time in the director’s chair. As a screenwriter his films have been hit (School Of Rock) or miss (Chuck and Buck). This is one of those near misses. Perhaps it’s an acquired taste, but I found Molly Shannon’s performance awkward at best. She pretty much deadpans herself through most of the film, and I never develop any empathy or rapport with her character. This film doesn’t work when you quickly decide the “hero” is unlikable. I think White found himself stranded somewhere in the film and couldn’t figure out how to get it home. Instead the film just lays there like an aging dog by the fireplace, content to go nowhere at all for as long as possible. With the exception of Laura Dern’s character, this film is populated by uninspired performances. Even the laughs came at moments when they were certainly unintended.
Year Of The Dog is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The transfer is fine, and while not outstanding in any way, delivers what it needs to deliver. Colors are pretty natural with nothing standing out as very bright. There isn’t a lot of contrast, so the film isn’t very stimulating visually. Still, black levels are pretty good, and I didn’t see enough compression artifact or print defects to take away from the experience. I’m not sure if it was the dull color scheme or not, but the picture doesn’t look particularly sharp at all. Again, while there’s nothing really wrong with the presentation, it is remarkably dull just the same.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is pretty much a front of the room affair. I’m not sure I caught anything beyond a musical effect from the back speakers. Dialog is front and center and always easy to understand. There are a lot of quiet moments in this film that tend to drag it down a bit. Shannon’s expressions just aren’t good enough to hold our entire attention for that long with almost nothing in the sound to stimulate our senses.
There is an audio commentary with writer/director Mike White and Molly Shannon. The pair are about as unexciting as the film itself. The funny thing is that because the film is so subdued in the audio department, this commentary never distracts. They offer a lot of typical tidbits that are mildly interesting if you do like the film. Neither one of them is particularly outgoing.
A Special Breed Of Comedy: The Making Of Year Of The Dog: This 16 minute piece offers all of the standard feature elements. There are plenty of film clips, interview segments, and a good amount of behind the scenes footage.
Being Molly Shannon: If you found this character compelling, you will enjoy this 4 minute feature. For me there was waaaaaaay too much “Didn’t Molly just do a wonderful job here”. No, she didn’t.
Deleted Scenes: There are nearly 12 minutes of extra scenes here with an optional commentary by White. It’s all more of the same. Many of these scenes push the animal rights message perhaps a bit too far. The cause is certainly a good one, but as Peggy demonstrates, even a good cause can be taken to extremes.
Insert Reel: An insert is something shot to be inserted later into the film. These are usually closeups of props being manipulated. This is a short but quite interesting little extra.
Gag Reel: Wasn’t this whole film a gag? Oh, sorry. The normal flubs and laughs here.
Moviefone: Unscripted: Shannon and White kind of interview each other as a promotional gig for the film’s release.
What can I say? If you like slow deadpan comedy, you will love Year Of The Dog;otherwise this one’s a yawner. I think it is possible that White got caught up in the animal rights stuff when he lost his way. Unfortunately for us, Lassie wasn’t around to guide him out of this soupy mess in time to salvage the experience for us. The running time of about an hour and a half (What’s that in dog years?) feels like a lifetime. Don’t be fooled by the cute puppy in the ads. This dog has no bite, or even a bark for that matter. All we’re left with is “a stupid movie”.
Gino Sassani is a member of the Southeastern Film Critic's Association (SEFCA). He is a film and television critic based in Tampa, Florida. He's also the Senior Editor here at Upcomingdiscs. Gino started reviewing films in the early 1990's as a segment of his local television show Focus. He's an award-winning recording artist for Omega Records. Gino is currently working on his 8th album Merchants & Mercenaries. Gino took over Upcomingdiscs Dec 1, 2008. He works out of a home theater he calls The Reel World. Favorite films: The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, The Body Snatcher (Val Lewton film with Karloff and Lugosi, not the pod people film), Unforgiven, Gladiator, The Lion King, Jaws, Son Of Frankenstein, The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, and Monsters, Inc.