Year of the Dog arrived in my mailbox after languishing ignored on my Netflix queue for several months and then somehow quietly making it to the top when I forgot to add the Northern Exposure Season 2 DVDs I really wanted. Let’s just say I wasn’t thrilled to find myself with what seemed to be a dubious romantic comedy starring Molly Shannon when I was expecting to spend the weekend with a delightful depiction of the glorious 1990s in quirky small-town Alaska.
The movie turned out to be quite unexpectedly good, however. I will be spoiling nothing when I tell you the one-line description of the film provided by IMDb.com: “A secretary’s life changes in unexpected ways after her dog dies.” There you have it; this lady’s dog is going to die. That is the entire premise of the movie and it happens within the first fifteen minutes. Really, I swear I am not spoiling anything.
Even though I knew what was going to happen myself, watching that event play out and seeing Peggy’s grief afterward was almost impossible to watch. It was so unbearably sad that I thought I was going to have to turn the movie off right then and there, only fifteen minutes in. I will confess not only to sobbing messily but also to taking off my glasses, burying my head under a blanket, and following along with the movie only by listening until the next stage of the plot began. I even started crying AGAIN when I was watching the making-of-the-film special feature. REALLY.
It was worth sticking with it though, as Mike White is pretty genius at the dark comedy, and I do indeed love me some of that. Molly Shannon plays the dramatic scenes unexpectedly well — if she weren’t able to do that the entire movie would fall apart — but even the textbook comedy scenes, like the dozens of dogs riding in a tiny car seen below, have an edge of pain and longing to them. Peter Sarsgaard, who plays Newt, is also darkly hilarious, especially in one scene where he recounts to Peggy a particular dream he had. I shall tell you no more than that.
I definitely recommend this film, but if you have even the smallest soft spot in your heart for dogs, have plenty of tissues at the ready.
P.S. The shaggy dog leaning out the passenger window is the canine Doppelgänger of my family’s late and much beloved Stanley. Sniff.