Any dog-lover would be a fool to pass up this charming dark comedy from director/screenwriter/actor Mike White (THE GOOD GIRL, SCHOOL OF ROCK, CHUCK AND BUCK). Famous for her iconic portrayal of Mary Katherine Gallagher, SNL alum Molly Shannon shows new range here as Peggy, a timid secretary whose whole life revolves happily around her adorable beagle, Pencil. When unspeakable tragedy strikes, Peggy is naturally overcome with grief. But at the same time, the loss of Pencil forces Peggy out of her shell and into the world of people. As a heartbroken Peggy faces pressure to cheer up from her friends and family, she is taken by the genuine empathy of her next door neighbor (John C. Reilly), even if she is appalled by his love of hunting. And just when Peggy thinks she's found a kindred spirit in a sexually ambiguous pet trainer (Peter Sarsgaard), the mixed signals and complexity that make up human nature get in the way. The more she observes her brother, her controlling sister-in-law (Laura Dern), and the supposedly normal but actually twisted life that they live, the more attractive the simpler, purer world of animals appears. Peggy soon realizes that she must follow her true passion and pave her own path, even if it involves a lie here or there in pursuit of a good cause.
While White's offbeat sense of humor can be felt in every moment of the film, the story is also surprisingly sad and touching. Pencil's passing is up there with many of cinema's most heart-wrenching scenes, and Shannon's vulnerability as Peggy is quite moving. YEAR OF THE DOG should appeal to non-pet owners as well, as it boasts wonderful performances by Regina King as Peggy's well-meaning but sometimes clueless friend and coworker, along with Sarsgaard, Reilly, Dern, and Josh Pais as Peggy's testy boss. The film never ridicules Peggy or her love for animals, but defends it as valid, and just as true as any relationship between people.