Year of the Dog

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PARK CITY - One of the best things about films shown at Sundance is that those small side-of-story characters -- the ones who bolster and spice up mainstream films -- are front and center here. This touching story centers on a lonely, single woman who loses the love of her life, her dog Pencil, and struggles to overcome a life without her cherished "significant other." In a more mainstream movie, this character would be reduced to a sideshow, laughed at as a pathetic nutcase, or a goofy pet lover. In certain genres, she might be regarded as a threat.

Yet, in this well-rounded personal story, we care about this well-meaning, love-starved woman. With a well-received audience boost here at Sundance, "Year of the Dog" should, in particular, lap up strong female word-of-mouth. Paramount Vantage will have an obvious marketing opportunity in targeting this quirky story to women and pet owners: Afternoon talk shows and women's magazines could create great buzz.

Starring Molly Shannon as the distraught pet-owner, "Year of the Dog" ambles with both light humor and dark insights. Filmmaker Mike White's easy comic touch graces the storyline, unleashing some amusing comic characters, as well. Regina King is a frothy delight as Peggy's marriage-minded colleague, while Laura Dern is hilarious as a high-strung, overly-protective mother. John C. Reilly is sympathetic as Peggy's macho neighbor who tries to understand her depth of loss, while enduring nightlong barkings of her new-found strays.

While the tone is engagingly light, White does delve into the darker recesses of Peggy's dog-lost world. As her grief mounts, and she again finds she is unable to trust humans in the same way she trusts animals, it takes disturbing downsides: She loses her job, alienates her brother and sister-in-law, and confounds her co-workers and friends. Overall, "Year of the Dog" evinces an appealing sentimentality without being maudlin or only puppy-dog cute.

Year of the Dog
Paramount Vantage

Producers: Mike White Ben Le Clair, DeDe Gardner; Screenwriter/director: Mike White; Executive producers: Nan Morales, Brad Pitt; Director of photography: Tim Orr: Production designer: Daniel Bradford; Editor: Dody Dorn; Music: Christophe Beck.

Cast:
Peggy   : Molly Shannon
Steve: Steve Berg
Craig: Craig Cackowski
Brenda: Brenda Canela
Bret: Laura Dern
Jeff: Chuck Duffy
Layla: Regina King
Al: John C. Reilly
Newt: Peter Sarsgaard

MPAA Rating: PG-13, Running time - 98 minutes.

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