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Movie Review

Year of the Dog

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some suggestive references

Reviewed by: Spencer Schumacher

Better than Average
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teens, Adults
Comedy, Drama
1 hr. 37 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
April 13, 2007
Copyright, Paramount Vantage
Copyright, Paramount Vantage
Copyright, Paramount Vantage
Copyright, Paramount Vantage
Copyright, Paramount Vantage
Copyright, Paramount Vantage
Copyright, Paramount Vantage
Copyright, Paramount Vantage
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Paramount Vantage

Dogs in the Bible

Animals in the Bible

What is true love and how do you know when you have found it? Answer

Featuring: Molly Shannon, Peter Sarsgaard, Regina King, John C. Reilly, Laura Dern
Director: Mike White
Producer: Nan Morales, Brad Pitt, Mike White
Distributor: Paramount Vantage

“Has the world left you a stray?”

To listen to director Mike White is to experience a person who seems to have had showbiz thrust upon him, rather than grabbing it himself. He talks reluctantly and seems to be out of place in the world of entertainment. Given that the characters he’s created take on the same types of “real-world” traits, this is not necessarily a bad thing. White is most famously known as being the nerdy substitute that had his job stolen by Jack Black in “School of Rock,” a character that does not seem too far from his real self.

In “Year of the Dog,” writer Mike White (“Chuck and Buck,” “School of Rock”) makes his directorial debut with this typical romantic comedy about a girl and her… dogs.

Molly Shannon plays Peggy, an office secretary working in a cubicle for a hyper-controlling boss. Her life revolves around the one true love of her life, her beagle affectionately known as Pencil. One night, Pencil wanders off and dies mysteriously while foraging in a neighbor’s (Thomas C. Riley) yard.

Peggy’s family and co-workers try to help her get through the loss, but do not realize how important Pencil was. Peggy’s co-worker (Regina King) tries to set her up with eligible men, but Peggy is too distraught to consider dating. While in mourning she meets Newt (Peter Sarsgaard) who works at an animal shelter. Newt not only brings a new dog into Peggy’s life, but a new moral philosophy, one of animal liberation and vegetarianism.

While the story unfolds in standard, linear fashion, it is rather layered with sub-plots dealing with the neighbor, her family, and the whole world of animal cruelty she has become involved with. As she gets more deeply entrenched in this new lifestyle, both Peggy and the story teeter on the edge of going to rather dark and uncomfortable areas, both in the tone and the political nature of the subject it explores. However, the film does a good job in staying balanced.

Those familiar with the terrain explored in “Chuck and Buck” (2000) will find the tone of this film familiar. In that earlier film, White penned a story of the lengths one would go to renew a past friendship. The film was at its heart good-natured, but had a dark, uncomfortable edge around it. “Year of the Dog” delves into the same cinematic territory. Overall, the film has a real “feel-good” appeal to it, though it is surrounded by some rather rough edges as it delves into the world of animal rights and the use of animals in cosmetics and fur.

The movie is edgy, quirky and operates on different beats than your typical Hollywood film; one actually feels as if they are watching real people rather than other-worldly “stars” whose latest exploits simultaneously entertain you in the back of your mind while you watch them on the screen. Those whose tastes in cinema lean toward independent fare may enjoy this off-beat film.

For a general audience, this is a difficult film to recommend. There is very little objectionable about it, as far as adult content. There is absolutely no sexual content (since there is no romantic interest for Peggy, save her dogs), no nudity, and there are only two instances of the b-word, but unlike the profane usage of the word to degrade females, the usage in “Year of the Dog” is literally used to refer to a “female dog.” There is a brief scene of a dog defecating, but, other than that, the film is as clean as a dog home from grooming. The PG-13 rating this film has garnered is mostly based on suggestive references and the “tone” of the film, as it takes a very serious look at the world of animal cruelty, a subject that may be too intense for younger viewers.

The film also co-stars Laura Dern as Peggy’s sister in law.

Violence: None / Profanity: None / Sex/Nudity: None

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer Comments
Negative—A peculiar, off-putting art-film type movie. Certainly not appropriate for children. I’m surprised the rating is as mild as PG. Most of the characters are vehicles for satire rather than 3-dimensional people: the old maid who is overly attached to her dog, the couple with young children who are obsessed with over-protecting them, the woman desperate to trap her boyfriend into marriage. Evidently we are meant to laugh at these stereotypes, but the peculiar “art-film” style of the movie and the disturbing edge to the situations make it unfunny. The main character reaches a point where she is having real mental health problems and needs help, yet the film doesn’t show anyone actually helping her or treating her with any kind of real love. It’s not even concerned for the welfare of the dogs. A really troubled dog is released into the care of a woman who doesn’t have the skills and experience to help it and in a later highly disturbing scene this mistake leads to unfortunate consequences including the death of two animals.

There is even a scene which borders on child abuse, yet the film keeps its same tone as if the filmmaker didn’t even realize what he was filming. This may have been intentional but if so the film is hardly a comedy but a highly disturbing and peculiar document. It leaves a distinctly bad taste. It has a curious sterile atmosphere from which, strangely, both God and the real secular world are conspicuously absent. The main character shows absolutely no compunction about her own role in the death of her dog, and the final scene which the filmmaker evidently intends as some kind of redeeming moral epiphany on her part rings hollow. I suppose the movie does do its job as a work of art in that it raises questions and disturbs the viewer. It brings up questions about animal rights, about the ways people become trapped in their social positions—and even about how filmmakers generally are able to maniupulate our feelings and perceptions as we suspend our disbelief during movies. But there is a roughness and a meanness to the way the film switches between what is evidently the attempt to be funny and truly disturbing material. One feels that the basic contract of trust between filmmaker and audience is repeatedly violated.
My Ratings: Offensive / 3½
—Seth Low, age 46
Negative—This is one of the most blatantly pagan movies I have ever seen. The main character who is grieved over the loss of her dog begins to fall into full blown animal worship. Her whole life is totally controled by her passion for animals to the point that it directs her moral judgment. She steals from work, breaks in to her neighbors house attacking him with a knife just so he would know what it is like to be hunted, has her house over run by dogs, ruins her sister-in-laws fur coats, and blackmails her friends unfaithful fiance' so that he would adopt a dog. It would be one thing if this was all done to get a laugh but sadly it was all to show her as a real person with valid actions. This is a very subtle movie which could easily sway the unsuspecting or the young. After all who doesn’t love animals and want the best for them. The problem is when you break the commnandments of God in order to get your agenda across, however noble it may seem.

This movie is pagan to the core presenting a cosmic oneness of everything. The way this is done is by valuing animal life to the same degreee as human life, teaching that to save a chickens life so that it may live free is a honorable cause. At the root of this vegan message is a heart that says it is wrong for man to live off the death of another life. Taking it a step further if you will, consider the death of Christ and how only by His death and resurrection can man truly live. The Cross is the antithesis of the vegan message. And this vegan message is preached loud and clear thru out the movie. It is no wonder meat eating is often given up in pagan Earth worshiping enviornments. In the end their god is the Earth and the lives (even chicken) are all worth saving so that we can all live as one. Bad movie.
My Ratings: Offensive / 3
—Paul Rochford, age 29
Negative—Enjoy sitting through PETA propaganda films and male-bashing? Then this is the movie for you. This movie force feeds heavy doses of animal rights ideology steadily for an hour and 30 minutes. Two messages are prevalent throughout:
(1) We should be ashamed of ourselves for eating meat
(2) All men are either pigs or homosexuals

…If a homosexual character revealing that he has nightmares of being raped by two dogs is not enough for a Christian to be offended, the Lord’s is name is also taken in vain several times throughout. That should be enough to make any Christian turn it off (which I did). All men in the movie are portrayed as either homosexual, nincompoops who’s only passion is hunting or cheating on their fiancé. According to this film, all men are pigs. Apparently worried that message might be too subtle for the audience, the husband of a friend is given the unique honor of having a pig named after him.

This movie could have been a very endearing story about a woman who loses a cherished pet and learns to cope with life by learning to relate to human beings instead. But the director obviously values his vegan agenda over providing a good storyline for the audience. I had my fill when the main character begins telling the children that the animal sanctuary they were at was “heaven,” hell was down the road at the processing plant where it was a “real holocaust.” What an insult to the Jews! Any Christian with the sense of a lima bean should be able to pick up this movie’s obviously anti-Christian message.
My Ratings: Extremely Offensive / 2½
—Chuck Davis, age 36
Comments from young people
Negative—All in all it was a bad movie!!! It was a bad storyline, and there was no point to the whole movie. We watched it as a family, but we got so bored and offended. She lies, cheats, steals (fraud), loses touch with reality and in the end there was no point to the whole movie.
My Ratings: Offensive / 1
—Abigail, age 16