The description I read online of Year of the Dog made it sound like a Napoleon Dynamite-type project. Having then watched Year of the Dog, I can now offer this analogy: If Napoleon Dynamite—the film, not the title role—is your odd, but still humorous cousin, this movie is your great-aunt who sits in the corner, smells like cheese and wears funny sweaters. Point is, they're related, but only kind of.
I'd never heard of Dog's rookie director Mike White until I IMDB'd him (what a great verb!), and found out he not only wrote and produced Year of the Dog, but he's been dabbling in Hollywood for years. He wrote Nacho Libre and Orange County, starred in The Good Girl and The Stepford Wives and both wrote and starred in School of Rock.
Molly Shannon headlines the cast of Dog as Peggy, a simple homebody secretary whose life is devoid of anything outside of her dog, an adolescent beagle named Pencil. Peggy meanders through her dreary days interacting with her Steve Carell-type boss (Josh Pais, Rounders), a flighty Peg Bundy-ish friend (Regina King, Miss Congeniality 2) and her smarmy soccer-mom sister-in-law (Laura Dern, Jurassic Park).
After ingesting something toxic, Pencil dies in the neighbor's yard. Though it doesn't seem possible, Peggy's condition worsens. But a chance call from Newt (Peter Sarsgaard, Garden State), the vet's assistant, about a dog up for adoption seems as if it might breathe some life back into Peggy.
Now filled with a bit of vigor, Peggy dabbles in quasi-activism and a vegan diet, but when tragedy strikes again, it sends her into a downward spiral.
Perhaps White took notes from director Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite, Nacho Libre), because this first attempt—using quick cuts and short bursts of dialog—feels a bit like Hess' projects, but unlike Hess' films, the abundance of humor in Dog is conspicuously absent. While watching, I kept waiting for the ball to drop, for Peggy to learn a lesson or for her character to blossom. But she doesn't. She remains a stolid character in a film slow to develop. And though there are a handful of perfectly-delivered lines, mostly by Reilly as the knife collecting next door neighbor, the pace and lack of character development leave the story flat.
This one's not bad enough to muster my best Napoleon impression, calling White an "Idiot!" in his directorial debut, but I would've liked to have seen this movie—especially one with an abundance of canine stars—show a little more heart.
Opens Friday, May 4 at the Flicks. Check page 43 of the May 2 issue of Boise Weekly for times.