Molly Shannon as Peggy
Laura Dern as Bret
Regina King as Layla
Thomas McCarthy as Pier
Josh Pais as Robin
John C. Reilly as Al
Peter Sarsgaard as Newt
Amy and Zoe Schlagel as Lissie
Dale Godboldo as Don
Inara George as Holly
Liza Weil as Trishelle
Audrey Wasilewski as Audrey
Directed by Mike White
The supporting cast of Mike White’s directorial debut offer plenty of laughs, but it always comes down to Molly Shannon being the movie’s weak link, unable to hold the disparate ideas together.
(Note: A version of this review was posted on the CS Blog as part of our Sundance coverage but has been expanded for its theatrical release.)
In a year where every screenwriter worth their weight in salt has been making the move behind the camera to realize their visions, it was only so long before Mike White, the man behind genius comedies like “The Good Girl” and “School of Rock,” would give it a go.
White’s directorial debut stars Molly Shannon as Peggy, a chronic dog lover who hasn’t been able to find a man, something she tries to rectify when her beloved beagle Pencil mysteriously dies. At first, the movie seems to be about Peggy’s quest for love, but after two failed attempts, first with her neighbor (John C. Reilly) and then with an effeminate fellow dog enthusiast (Peter Sarsgaard), the movie becomes more about Peggy’s manic quest to protect animals, particularly dogs. She becomes a diehard vegan, forging checks from the pharmaceutical company where she works to various animal charities, but by continuously putting animals over the people in her life, she drives everyone away.
Despite the obvious anticipation among the many fans of White’s last indie movie “The Good Girl”, this just isn’t as strong or funny as his previous work. Sure, there are more than a few laughs, but this isn’t the non-stop hilarity one might expect, because a lot of it feels merely like set-up for the climactic sight gag involving Shannon driving her tiny car filled with the fifteen dogs she saved from the pound.
What makes this movie so uniquely Mike White are the quirky characters that surround Peggy, from Josh Pais as her clueless wishy-washy boss to Laura Dern, Peggy’s sister-in-law who is overly protective of her kids. Sarsgaard’s effeminate Newt is also a strange pseudo love interest, but the biggest laughs come from Regina King as Peggy’s gabby, nosey co-worker who is obsessed with her boyfriend, and she keeps the mood light and brightens things up whenever she opens her mouth. These are all people we’ve experienced in our everyday lives, so the laughs from come from genuine places, being more based on the characters and situations around Peggy. After introducing so many funny characters, the movie gets into a tedious, repetitive pattern as Shannon interacts with each of them, and each joke is repeated as each character appears on-screen. White certainly has a lot of funny ideas and things to subject Peggy with as she goes through her journey, but it never really feels like the plot is strong enough to hold things together, as it meanders all over the place, and at a certain point, the whole thing becomes a bit of a downer.
Unfortunately, Molly Shannon really is White’s weakest link, because she’s not strong enough as a dramatic actress, at least not yet, to carry a movie like this and make the role work. When she’s crying over the death of her dog, it seems faked and force, which makes it very hard to take any of it very seriously, even when it turns into a PETA lovefest.
The Bottom Line:
Even with Molly Shannon playing the type of single working everywoman that many women will be able to relate to, there’s just something off about Mike White’s latest, because there seem to be too many ideas that never really come together. Dog lovers certainly will appreciate the number of lovable pooches in the movie, and of course, the one or two people who’ve been dying to see Shannon in a more dramatic role will finally get their wish, but most people’s enjoyment will depend on their own tolerance for Shannon’s on-screen persona. This is by no means a breakout role in the way that “The Good Girl” was for Jennifer Aniston,
“Year of the Dog” opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.