Year of the Dog

For well over four years, I’ve written blog reviews–more precisely responses–to virtually every film I’ve seen in a movie theater. A 4/4 teaching load and some other priorities have made such a task impossible to sustain. More crucially, I’m not enjoying writing the responses as much as I used to. This change of heart coincides with, but isn’t really related to, last week’s dust-up about blogging film critics or cloggers or whatever we’re calling ourselves these days.

I’m still planning to blog about most of the films that I watch but in a less formal way. It’s probably no accident that my decision to change my blogging practices occurred after seeing Mike White’s Year of the Dog, a self-consciously quirky indie film that seemed to be about being a Self-Consciously Quirky Indie Film more than anything else. And I’m not sure if what follows counts as a review as much as a mini-rant about a certain mode of indie filmmaking.

I wanted to like the film quite a bit more than I did. Molly Shannon’s Peggy, an unmarried thirty-something woman who has her comfortable life shattered when her pet beagle dies suddenly, isn’t a character who normally appears a lead character in a Hollywood film. And I could easily get behind a film that affirmed Peggy’s freedom to be single, quirky, and weird. But I could never quite grasp what the film’s attitude was towards Peggy. White seems to be aligned with other misanthropic indie filmmakers such as Alexander Payne and Todd Solondz, and while a film shouldn’t feel obligated to like its lead character, the coldness of Year of the Dog, especially towards its female characters is what stuck with me, and Dog is absolutely icy towards Peggy’s over-protective sister-in-law, Bret (played by Laura Dern).

If I were writing a regular review, I’d probably also complain about the third-act disappearance of Newt (Peter Saarsgard), an animal rescue worker who seems like a potential suitor for Peggy, but whose sexuality is so ambiguous that reviewers have read him as straight but celibate, gay, and just plain celibate. White has assembled some interesting characters (again, with the exception of Bret, who isn’t remotely funny as satire), but the film stopped well short of doing anything interesting with them.


  1. Sujewa Said,

    May 13, 2007 @ 4:04 am

    What did you think about The Squid & The Whale? It’s not a comedy & I don’t think it had much of an effect on me BUT the poster design for Year of the Dog reminds me of the promo art (poster & DVD) for Squid & Whale; & both films are more indie slanted than Hollywood, so maybe there is a connection there (i think i do want to check out Dog at some point, but Fay Grim first, next week).

    – Sujewa

  2. Chuck Said,

    May 13, 2007 @ 10:15 am

    The connection is probably just a self-conscious desire to evoke a certain kind of Indiewood filmmaking. Squid very consciously compared itself to The Royal Tenenbaums in its treatment of an eccentric, precocious family dealing with divorce. The movie art is similar, but that’s about as far it goes.

    Hope I get a chance to see Fay Grim, but I may have to see it in Raleigh-Durham.

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