Peggy (Molly Shannon) is in love with her dog Pencil. They eat together, watch TV together, even snuggle up in bed together. Then Pencil dies and Peggy is distraught. A rebound date with her knife and gun-loving neighbour (John C Reilly) proves futile. Then she meets Newt (Peter Sarsgaard), an employee of the veterinary practice in which Pencil woofed his last who converts her to his starry-eyed worldview where animals ‘live for love’.
‘Saturday Night Live’ ex-pat Shannon is excellent in the central role, brandishing a sweet, toothy grin and colossal range of customised cardigans to make us really feel for Molly’s human estrangement. Though the film falters in terms of its lack of a streamlined narrative, there is no denying that it is packed to the rafters with meaty ideas and characters who are charged with a satisfying moral ambivalence. Sarsgaard’s bumbag-sporting Newt is a case in point, first appearing as a fey Godhead for asexual vegan activists, with scenes of his gooey dog trainer vernacular later offset with a snooty grimace of emotional blackmail when Peggy starts to nibble on a chicken sandwich. Concealing a bloodied dagger behind its twee, sky-blue mise en scene and affected, Sundancey framing, the film uses Peggy’s unhealthy fondness for animal companionship to present ideas that – like Todd Solondz did with the abortion debate in ‘Pallindromes’ -– argue both for and against the ownership of animals and animal products. Still, a somewhat meandering final third makes ‘Year of the Dog’ end up feeling a bit like a closed kennel with a healthy purebred mewing inside and just waiting for the right owner