Saturday, October 6, 2007

Year of the Dog

I felt like I was watching a Wes Anderson movie, while watching this debut from Mike White. He has had quite an illustrious career being yet another Freaks and Geeks writer, as well as collaborator on a majority of Jack Black movies. This was his first time in the director's chair, and he managed to craft a world filled with unhappy and desperately flawed characters. The thing that doesn't make it quite meet up with Anderson is that these quirky characters don't have the deep and witty undertones to make them compelling. Still, it was a very good effort.

Molly Shannon stars as a secretary who's life changes when her dog dies. She realizes how lonely she actually is, and she sets of on a journey of self-discovery. This involves getting a new dog, meeting men, becoming a vegan and an animal rights activist. It's debatable whether she really feels strongly about these causes, whether it's just to alleviate the guilt from her own dog, or whether it's to impress a guy. This struggle of motivation and morality adds an important level of death. Her character is a tragic one, but she's certainly not blameless. Shannon, an SNL alum and veteran of a slew of bad comedies does a wonderful job in the first real dramatic role I've seen her in. She has experience doing over the top zany, but apparently she can also handle subtlety very well. I'd like to see her team up with Noah Baumbach or Dan Harris.

John C. Reily and Peter Sarsgaard star as her love interests. Sarsgaard is the tree-hugging activist she's trying to impress, and Reily is the more down to earth, but not necesarilly an animal lover (he hunts). She has to learn to deal with her own inner demons, as well as the flaws of others. Sometimes she does so admirably, but other times she handles situations very poorly. That's what makes her real.

As the movie progresses, she descends further and further into herself, and into insanity. As her human relationships crumble, she takes desperate measures, and loses her grip on what's acceptable and what's not. Towards the end, the movie swiftly changes from an almost light-hearted character study into a deeply dark failure of inter-personal relations.

The only characters I didn't really understand were her brother and sister-in-law. They added a bit of light-hearted comedy, being the over-protective, allergen sniffing parents, but they didn't forward the plot much. They kind of functioned as a foil to Shannon's character, but her friend, Layla (Regina King) fulfilled that role much better. She was truly the most normal character to bounce Shannon's eccentricities off of.


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