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The Year of the Dog - movie


[San Francisco Chronicle]

When Mike White, 36, was in college, he was an English major.

"The last thing that occurred to me was to take film classes, even though I knew one day I would want to write for movies," the director of the soon-to-be-released film "Year of the Dog" says. "Film classes felt like the opposite of what I wanted to do, which was to try to get inspired by life."
...
"I have two minds about it, which gets reflected in the film," says White. "I'm an animal person. I love animals. But at the same time, I recognize the indulgences."

Eventually, Peggy's involvement with an animal-shelter volunteer, Newt, played by Peter Sarsgaard, leads her to veganism, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and animal activism. White became vegan himself a few years ago, while working on "Nacho Libre," after reading a book in an airport. Unlike Peggy, who wants to tell the whole world to care more about animals, he is by no means a zealot.

"The book talked about the emotional lives of farm animals," he says. "You know, how much they love their babies, stuff like that. I knew this was true because of the pets I've had."
...
The difference between Peggy's passion for animals and what drives the other characters' lives is societal perception, White says. Her boss' love for money, for instance, is sanctioned by society, while her relationship with animals seems transgressive. But White doesn't take a cynical view of the motivations of the people around Peggy, which gives the film an underlying sweetness.

--
full story:
http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/04/08/PKGONP06I11.DTL&type=movies



Molly Shannon and her best friend, the beagle Pencil, in "Year of the Dog.' (Suzanne Tenner/Paramount Vantage)

http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/04/13/arts/flik14.php

'Year of the Dog': An existential tale about a woman and her dog

By Manohla Dargis

Published: April 13, 2007

Year of the Dog Directed by Mike White (U.S.)

The wily and resourceful young screenwriter Mike White writes movies that seem as if they were cooked up by the skinny, self-consciously awkward guy who always ends up alone in a corner at the office holiday party. As it happens, White, who sometimes acts in the films he and others write, is a skinny, seemingly self-aware guy, though given his résumé - "Chuck & Buck," "The Good Girl," "School of Rock" and "Nacho Libre" - it's a safe bet he doesn't often play the wallflower, at least in Hollywood.

"Year of the Dog" is exactly the kind of story you would expect White to make for his directing debut. It's funny ha-ha but firmly in touch with its downer side, which means it's also funny in a kind of existential way. It stars the comic Molly Shannon as a woman who discovers her true self through a love of animals, though not that kind of love. She's not Catherine the Great, just Peggy the Good. It's a film about what it means to devote yourself to something other than your fears and desires, to shed that hard, durable shell called selfishness. It is, rather remarkably, an inquiry into empathy as a state of grace. And if that sounds too rarefied for laughs, rest assured, it's also about a stone-cold beautiful freak.

That freak would be Peggy, who seems like a punch line in waiting.

Unmarried and just north of 40, she lives with her sole companion, a sturdy little beagle named Pencil, in a tidy little house someplace in Southern California. She works as an assistant to some kind of numbers cruncher, Robin (the divine Josh Pais), on an office floor filled with cubicles that, from just the right angle, look remarkably like feedlot pens. It's drab but pleasant enough, and anyway Peggy doesn't seem to mind or notice.

We are, during the opening of "Year of the Dog," in seriously overtilled territory, somewhere between Alexander Payne and Todd Solondz. White lays out the narrow parameters of Peggy's life with an aggressive lack of visual flair This being a Mike White film, I was keeping my fingers crossed for more.

It takes a while, but White does peel away his film's surface banality. What gets everything moving is Pencil's untimely death, which tears a hole in Peggy's world and eventually her psyche. For Peggy, a woman who greets her beloved friend with a toothy smile that rivals the sun for warmth (Pencil shines right back), this isn't the death of some adopted stray, one in a line of carelessly loved dumb beasts. It is a shock to the system, a life-altering tragedy, a terrible end that becomes - movingly, through one odd story kink after another - a radical new beginning.

Reader, she becomes a vegan. She also advocates and donates, destroys a couple of fur coats and takes her young niece and baby nephew to an animal sanctuary where rescued horses, cows, pigs and chickens roam about breathing fresh air with the green grass below and the blue sky above. Into the void left by Pencil she crams a couple and then a couple hundred and then thousands of abused and abandoned creatures, both by petition and by adoption, transforming into a kind of Angelina Jolie of the animal kingdom. She also finds what she hopes may be her Brad Pitt in the form of a pasty lump who volunteers at the ASPCA, Newt (Peter Sarsgaard, superb).

In other words Peggy becomes, at last, a fleshed-out character worth spending time with, not because she's funny (she is) or nice (not always) or sympathetic (not necessarily). Instead it is precisely because she isn't especially pleasant to be around, because she makes some wrong and, depending on your worldview and palate, some suspect choices - fermented soybean, for starters - that she and the film finally start to hum, whistle and work. After the story settles in, Shannon fits White's anti-intuitive purposes admirably, in large part because so much of the performance willfully goes against the grain, pushing at us with naked, frenzied need that can feel embarrassing and, at times, almost grotesque.

In its broad outline, "Year of the Dog" is the story of a woman who goes slightly bonkers and becomes an animal-rights advocate, not because she's bonkers, but because the love of animals is where she finally finds her peace of mind, sense of self, grace. It's also about the creation of conscience, about what makes us human and why, a surprisingly little-told story in contemporary American cinema.

You can learn a lot from our movies, like how to hold a gun and blow someone's head off. It's more unusual to watch a film in which the central struggle is how to be happy and sane. There's a touch of the saint in Peggy, true, but what makes me love her is that she's ridiculously, beautifully human.


http://movies2.nytimes.com/2007/04/13/movies/13dog.html?th&emc=th

In a Lonely Place, Saved by Puppies

By MANOHLA DARGIS

Published: April 13, 2007

The wily and resourceful young screenwriter
Mike White writes movies that seem as if they were cooked up by the skinny, self-consciously awkward guy who always ends up alone in a corner at the office holiday party. As it happens, Mr. White, who sometimes acts in the films he and others write, is a skinny, seemingly self-aware guy, though given his résumé � "Chuck & Buck," "The Good Girl," "School of Rock" and "Nacho Libre" � it�s a safe bet he doesn�t often play the wallflower, at least in Hollywood.

"Year of the Dog" is exactly the kind of story you would expect Mr. White to make for his directing debut. It�s funny ha-ha but firmly in touch with its downer side, which means it�s also funny in a kind of existential way. It stars the comic
Molly Shannon as a woman who discovers her true self through a love of animals, though, not that kind of love. She�s not Catherine the Great, just Peggy the Good. It�s a film about what it means to devote yourself to something other than your fears and desires, to shed that hard, durable shell called selfishness. It is, rather remarkably, an inquiry into empathy as a state of grace. And if that sounds too rarefied for laughs, rest assured, it�s also about a stone-cold beautiful freak.

That freak would be Peggy, who seems like a punch line in waiting. Unmarried and just north of 40, she lives with her sole companion, a sturdy little beagle named Pencil, in a tidy little house someplace in Southern California. She works as an assistant to some kind of numbers cruncher, Robin (the divine Josh Pais), on an office floor filled with cubicles that, from just the right angle, look remarkably like feedlot pens. It�s drab but pleasant enough, and anyway Peggy doesn�t seem to mind or notice. Every morning she brings a big pink box of donuts for everyone in the office to share, then soaks in the joy. At lunch she listens to her office mate Layla (Regina King) plot her love life with the cunning of Sun Tzu.

...

It takes a while, but Mr. White does peel away his film�s surface banality. What gets everything moving, including his somewhat sneakily or perhaps cautiously articulated intellectual interests (this is, after all, a studio-bankrolled comedy), is Pencil�s untimely death, which tears a hole in Peggy�s world and eventually her psyche. For Peggy, a woman who greets her beloved four-legged friend with a toothy smile that rivals the sun for warmth (Pencil shines right back), this isn�t the death of some adopted stray, one in a line of carelessly loved dumb beasts. It is a shock to the system, a life-altering tragedy, a terrible end that becomes � movingly, through one odd story kink after another � a radical new beginning.

Reader, she becomes a vegan. She also advocates and donates, destroys a couple of fur coats and takes her young niece and baby nephew to an animal sanctuary where rescued horses, cows, pigs and chickens roam about breathing fresh air with the green grass below and the blue sky above. Into the void left by Pencil she crams a couple and then a couple hundred and then thousands of abused and abandoned creatures, both by petition and by adoption, transforming into a kind of
Angelina Jolie of the animal kingdom....

In other words Peggy becomes, at last, a fleshed-out character worth spending time with, not because she�s funny (she is) or nice (not always) or sympathetic (not necessarily). Instead it is precisely because she isn�t especially pleasant to be around, because she makes some wrong and, depending on your worldview and palate, some suspect choices � fermented soybean, for starters � that she and the film finally start to hum, whistle and work....

In its broad outline, "Year of the Dog" is the story of a woman who goes slightly bonkers and becomes an animal-rights advocate, not because she�s bonkers, but because the love of animals is where she finally finds her peace of mind, sense of self, grace. It�s also about the creation of conscience, about what makes us human and why, a surprisingly little-told story in contemporary American cinema.

You can learn a lot from our movies, like how to hold a gun and blow someone�s head off. It�s more unusual to watch a film in which the central struggle is how to be happy and sane. There�s a touch of the saint in Peggy, true, but what makes me love her is that she�s ridiculously, beautifully human.

"Year of the Dog" is Rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). Bring hankies.

Rest:
http://movies2.nytimes.com/2007/04/13/movies/13dog.html?th&emc=th
 

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