[box cover]

Year of the Dog

As a writer, Mike White has created ironic, above-it-all comedies like Chuck & Buck, The School of Rock, and Nacho Libre (which he co-wrote), all films whose protagonists are unusual and isolated in some way — losers, even, except that we like them. In Year of the Dog (2007), he's directing for the first time, and he brings that sense of detachment with him. It's the story of Peggy (Molly Shannon, showing surprising range), a single, 40-ish woman whose best relationships are with animals. When her beloved beagle dies, she goes into a tailspin and becomes a vegan, an activist, and a Crazy Dog Lady. The point? Do whatever makes you happy, whether it's "normal" or not. Supporting players like John C. Reilly, Laura Dern, and Regina King steal scenes here and there, and Shannon can be very funny when she keeps it subtle. She has excellent comic timing, and a knack for making us like pathetic characters. The only problem is White's directorial style, which keeps us at arm's length from the characters. The result is a movie that can make you laugh without making you feel anything— except maybe a little weariness for self-consciously quirky movies about unusual loners. Paramount's DVD release of Year of the Dog preserves the film's widescreen ratio (1.85:1), with a crisp, colorful transfer. The audio is Dolby Digital 5.1, with an optional Spanish track. Optional subtitles are in English and Spanish, and are included on the extras, too. The extras are a standard behind-the-scenes mini-doc, brief featurettes about Molly Shannon, Mike White, and the dog trainers, some average deleted scenes, and a disappointing gag reel. Shannon and White do a feature commentary in which the two old friends interview each other about the filmmaking process and occasionally comment non-substantively on the film itself. ("He was a sweet dog," "I want a dress like that," etc.) Their easygoing friendship is also on display in the final extra, a seven-minute AOL/Moviefone "Unscripted" piece that's a lot of fun. Keep-case.
—Eric D. Snider



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