Sunday, April 22, 2007

Let's hear it for the "Dog"

My freelance review:
Year of the Dog is a new movie opening wide (including the St. Louis metropolitan area) in a few weeks. This is an early review.

Dog stars Molly Shannon (from Saturday Night Live, 1995-2001) as Peggy, a woman living a simple life with a simple job, a simple house and a simple dog, a beagle named Pencil, who she adores immensely.

Peggy's simple life turns upside-down, though, when Pencil dies of a very sudden illness.

Knowing this about the film, it may come as a surprise that Dog is also quirky, off-beat and full of dry humor -- much like life itself. The rest of the movie follows Peggy and what is ultimately a life transformation for her.

This is not a predictable film. Released under the "Paramount Vantage" specialty-film division of Paramount Pictures, Dog is a ultimately quite the treat. It has its messages and it doesn't hesitate to tell them. But it does so in a way that ultimately works.

Strong credit for the success of the film goes to Shannon. This may end up being her career breakthrough role. She could have easily played her character with quite a bit of goofiness -- this is, of course, the actress who was hilarious on SNL as Monica Lewinski opposite frequent host John Goodman's Linda Tripp! Instead, here Shannon delivers what I interpret as a dramatic performance.

Her character of Peggy -- reeling from having lost her canine companion, her best friend -- plays it very straight and dry against a number of off-beat eccentric characters, played by John C. Reilly, Laura Dern and Regina King.

A stand-out supporting performance comes from Peter Sarsgaard, a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, as an animal activist who shows concern for Peggy and helps her.

First-time director Mike White (writer of Chuck & Buck, Nacho Libre and The School of Rock) seems intent to take the viewer into the world as seen by Peggy. Many of the camera shots are taken from Peggy's direct perspective. The unconventional camera work fits nicely in what is essentially an unconventional film.

If you are a dog lover, see this unconventional film.

If you like good movies, see this unconventional film.

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