A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this dramedy chronicles a pet lover's transformation into a hardcore animal-rights activist. The film portrays veganism and animal adoption positively and casts a negative light on game hunting, wearing fur, and eating meat. Molly Shannon's character is socially awkward and incredibly lonely, so there are some tear-jerking scenes of her after her beloved dog's accidental death. Children who have pets and/or love animals may be disturbed by photographic images of animal cruelty, a wall of mounted stuffed animals, and three instances of pets dying.
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What's the story?
In screenwriter Mike White's (Chuck & Buck, School of Rock) directorial debut, Molly Shannon is Peggy, a sweet-but-forgettable woman whose sole intimate connection is with her adoring pet beagle, Pencil. When Pencil dies of toxic poisoning after snooping around a neighbor's (John C. Reilly) yard, Peggy grows despondent -- suffering from the kind of gut-wrenching grief that people go through when they lose an immediate family member. While Peggy's still mourning, animal adoption worker Newt (Peter Sarsgaard) convinces her to rescue an aggressive German Shepherd, which he offers to train. Inspired by and attracted to Newt -- a staunch activist dedicated to various animal causes -- Peggy decides to become a vegan and starts hounding her co-workers to sign petitions, eat animal-free cupcakes, and adopt pets. For the first time, Peggy seems happy, and her busybody work friend Layla (Regina King) immediately notices the lovestruck glow. But when Newt admits he's celibate and is unwilling to have a romantic relationship, a crushed Peggy comes undone. She quickly devolves into a smelly, unkempt dog lady who doesn't even brush her hair or clean her house (which quickly gets filthy after she brings home a pack of rescued dogs).
Is it any good?
Who knew the SNL alum responsible for underarm-sniffing Superstar schoolgirl Mary Catherine Gallagher was capable of such a subtle, standout performance as an animal-loving wallflower? Thus far, Shannon's film career had been relegated to supporting quirky-friend roles, in which her manic energy and crack comedic timing got limited screen time. But throughout Peggy's transformation in this movie, Shannon is a vision. Every gesture and expression is perfectly calibrated to evoke pathos and sympathy for the sensitive, loving Peggy.
White, who's confessed that he's a pro-animal-rights vegan, could be construed as making an agenda film, but YEAR OF THE DOG is really a poignant chronicle of love lost and self discovery.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Peggy's character is portrayed. Does the movie link her depression with "craziness"? Is that accurate? What do you think about her belief that humans disappoint but animals always have love to give. Is it healthy for someone to love their pet(s) more than other humans? Families can also discuss how the media deals with social issues like animal rights. Are movies and TV shows an appropriate forum to deal with those issues? Why or why not? Was Peggy justified in taking her niece to the animal sanctuary? What about when she ruins her sister-in-law's fur coats? Kids: What do you think about animal rights?