Treading lightly between bemused affection and outright derision, Year of the Dog infuses one of society’s standard wallflowers, the single dog-lady, with uncommon dignity. The lady in question is Peggy (Molly Shannon), a mousy cubicle worker whose life revolves around her beloved dog Pencil. Shannon’s face rarely reveals anything but a pleasant, benign smile, yet she still manages to communicate the basic human yearning for companionship underneath.
Mike White, making his directorial debut after contributing to the scripts for The Good Girl, The School of Rock and Nacho Libre, cleverly builds Peggy up in narrative terms by surrounding her with people whose lives seem even sadder than hers: her sniveling boss (Josh Pais); her clueless coworker (Regina King); her paranoid sister-in-law (Laura Dern). Even so, the movie slowly chips away at Peggy’s small circle of happiness – there is a death and a few romantic failures – until we wonder, How much more can this little life take?
The way Peggy finally summons up her sense of self-worth may make you a bit uneasy, especially if you’re a cat-lover, but seeing her smile finally turn genuine is inspiring in its own odd way.