catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 10 :: 2007.05.18 — 2007.06.01


How much is that doggie in the window (arf, arf)

A back yard hootenanny on pets and life

Mike White, having penned movies such as Chuck & Buck, Orange County, The Good Girl, The School of Rock, and Nacho Libre, makes his directorial debut in Year of the Dog, featuring his always peculiar style and his keen mind for ironic comedy. From the nostalgic tone of Patti Page singing “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window” to Cat Stevens’ “I Love My Dog”, one can find pleasure in the peculiar comic-gem of Mike White’s Year of the Dog.

Our tale unfolds the lonely charades of Peggy (Molly Shannon), an eccentric office assistant whose dependable care for her family and friends is pushed to the brink and back again. The love of her life is Pencil, her beagle. Her days in her cubicle and her middle-class existence are simple, until one day  when Pencil keels over from a toxic bowl of Kibbles-N-Bits. The always-there Peggy finds herself lowly and alone. From her brother Pier (Thomas McCarthy) and his super-mom, conspiracy-theorist wife Bret (Laura Dern), who’s protective enough around her daughter to only spell D-E-A-T-H, to her workaholic boss Robin (Josh Pais) and her vexed co-worker Layla (Regina King), Peggy finds no solace. Soon she embarks on a journey to fill her void with not-so-favorable results including a soiree with burly-but-sweet neighbor Al (John C. Reilly) who confesses he devastatingly shot his “right hand bitch” Tessie, his childhood dog. Her life still void of that doggie in the window (arf! arf!) turns north for joy when an asexual vegan animal rights activist named Newt (Peter Sarsgaard) calls her up to adopt a dog.

Soon her story begins to shift as we follow her from her supermarket winks to her rock-bottom act with a slew of death-row canines. We eventually come to realize that Peggy’s journey isn’t so different from many of ours. Dog walks us from innocuously sweet to misanthrope and back, while White surrounds the heroine with an entourage of peculiar characters and seamlessly invites us to consider the relativism of our own obsessive lives.

Featuring cinematography by Tim Orr, music by Christophe Beck, and writing/directing by White, Year of the Dog barks of life’s humorous ironies. It’s an unconventional comedy with flair for depicting visceral humanity, an emotional breakdown that ultimately leads to a breakthrough. For sometimes, as Cat Stevens knows, our dearest friends in moments sorrow can be found outside of the human community: “I love my dog as much as I love you; but you may fade, my dog will always come through…Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na…”

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