September 11, 2007

"The Year of the Dog"

Now out on DVD.

Here is my review from the May 7, 2007 issue of The American Conservative:

"The Year of the Dog," with Saturday Night Live veteran Molly Shannon as a spinster secretary looking for love, sounds like just another romantic comedy, such as "The Truth about Cats and Dogs" or "Must Love Dogs." Yet, this sympathetic portrayal of the making of an animal rights activist / pest turns out to be one of the odder and more memorable movies of the year so far.

In recent years, the typical Hollywood filmmaker's career path has been first to write screenplays for others, and then move on to directing. Not every verbalist, however, is an equally adept visualist. First time director Mike White, screenwriter of "School of Rock" and "The Good Girl," is so unimaginative with images -- he mostly just plunks his actors dead center in the frame and has them stare goggle-eyed into the camera -- that his little quasi-comedy stumbles into a neo-Egyptian monumentality.

Fortunately, White has a strong cast, anchored by the disconcertingly intense Shannon, the diva of discomfort. Her Peggy is Shannon's SNL signature character Mary Katharine Gallagher, the Catholic schoolgirl with Asperger's Syndrome, grown a quarter century older and sadder, but no wiser. Now 42, Shannon plays awkward Peggy without makeup, every wrinkle in her delicate Irish skin exposed by the fluorescent office lighting.

Peggy's only friend besides her beagle Pencil is her fellow secretary, the contrastingly outgoing Layla (a scene-stealing Regina King, who was Cuba Gooding Jr.'s wife in "Jerry Maguire"). While black-white masculine friendships are far more common in cop movies and commercials than in daily life, Peggy and Layla's closeness is realistic: pink-collar working women enjoy the warmest interracial bonds of any class. Her black pal is conducting a publicly passionate affair with the office lothario, while Peggy displays the traditional Hibernian uneasiness over sex.

"The Year of the Dog" then introduces two disparate men into her life to make the point, a bit formulaically, that sexual and social attraction are often at odds. The older and less hormone-driven we get, the harder it is to find somebody of the opposite sex who fits the rut we've dug for ourselves.

One night, Peggy's beloved beagle gets into her neighbor's yard, eats some snail poison, and dies. To cheer her up, the construction worker next door, played by the currently omnipresent regular guy character actor John C. Reilly (Will Ferrell's sidekick in "Talladega Nights"), invites her out to dinner. Layla is ecstatic that Peggy finally has a date. Unfortunately, he turns out to love hunting, which Peggy can't abide.

Then, a handsome but effeminate man from the animal shelter offers her a vicious German shepherd who is otherwise doomed to be put down. A vegan, he instructs Peggy in the horrors of factory farms, and soon she's in love. Peter Sarsgaard, who normally plays strong, silent types like the sniper in "Jarhead" and Chuck Lane, the long-suffering editor of Marty Peretz's New Republic, in "Shattered Glass," portrays the pet person as a little too obviously gay -- to everybody except Peggy, whose heart gets broken.

With men letting her down, she turns even more to dogs for consolation, becoming a strident PETA-style activist. Strikingly, the script shows her losing the arguments she starts. Peggy assumes, though, as most people do, that she gets out-debated not because she's wrong, but because she's not glib enough.

She forges her boss's signature on a check to a farm animal rescue charity, adopts 15 dogs off death row at the pound, and ruins the fur coats of her insufferable sister-in-law (Laura Dern). Peggy is on the path to being a crazy old lady with too many pets in her squalid house, but "The Year of the Dog" asks whether being an animal addict is worse than sane loneliness.

PETA fanatics are the one sort of progressive that everybody loves to look down upon. After Dutch immigration restrictionist Pim Fortuyn was gunned down in 2002, the European center-left establishment immediately proclaimed (wrongly, as it turned out) that their vilification of anti-immigrationists had nothing to do with Fortuyn's murder. The assassin was just some animal rights loony!

And yet, the animal rights cause is likely to triumph partially. As the world gets richer, the worst abuses of factory farming will become less tolerable. Moreover, while we deplore Koreans' taste for dog, hardheaded Paul Johnson has suggested that our descendents won't understand how we complacently devoured the comparably intelligent pig. Too bad they're so tasty …

Rated PG-13 for some suggestive references.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

"...the traditional Hibernian uneasiness over sex"

That's the first I've heard of that! Are you quite sure we have this?

Excellent review of this quirky film. It helps if you love (as I most assuredly do) Molly Shannon.

Steve Sailer said...

In the U.S., the Kennedy Brothers made people forget this old stereotype, but there's lots of evidence that the Irish weren't very outgoing about dating. For example, contraceptives were illegal in the Republic of Ireland until 1979, as was abortion until much later, yet the illegitmacy rate was low. So, that meant early marriage, right? Wrong. Ireland at the time had the oldest average first marriage ages in Europe: 26 for women and 31 for men.

Anonymous said...

Catholicism taught the Irish sex is a disgusting unholy act. It is only be guilt-free within the bounds of a church-sanctified marriage and for the express purpose of procreation – thus the traditionally large Irish Catholic families.

Juxtapose a little ditty called “Every Sperm is Sacred” from Monty Python's movie "The Meaning of Life" with St. Augustine's idea of sex, lust and sin in his "Confessions" for reference. For the more orthodox, consider the early church theologian Origen who was reputed to have Bobbit’ed his own John Thomas following a more literal interpretation of Mathew 19:12

Before Christianity invaded the Emerald Isle like a plague of snakes, I see matrilineal pagens getting it on around the Maypole in some kind of dirty hippy utopia.


Anonymous said...

Hmmm - hence the famously repressed libidos of other Catholic countries like, say, France or Italy?

But, hey, don't let reality get in the way of your pagan matriarchical fantasyland. This is the 21st century - everyone has the inalienable right to rewrite history to fit their own agenda...

Anonymous said...

"I see matrilineal pagens getting it on around the Maypole in some kind of dirty hippy utopia."

But you never ever see the children who will grow up without their fathers or the little ones who are told every day in word and deed that "they are in the way".

You have never suffered, sir, and so can think such lofty things. People such as myself who were basically thrown away because we messed up the Adult Disney Land World of our parents, don't have that luxury.

m said...

Hey dude,

too obviously gay, I was just as clueless as Peggy and I stand by my gaydar! Sarsgaard character seemed pretty unfashionable(appearance) and only excited abouts animals. I enjoyed the movie and was genuinely interested in which way the filmaker would come down in the end.

Anonymous said...

A lot of it was tied up with land tenure post famine. Oldest son deferring marriage til he got the farm. Other kids going overseas and (if my family is any example) getting married almost before getting off the boat.

In cities (essentially meaning Dublin) it was different. Until the Brits left there was one of the biggest red light districts in Europe.

All of this is gone now. Farming is not as big as it was and Ireland is little different than any other EU country except richer due to a shrewd revenue system.

Anonymous said...

From my recent observation, the Hibernian lads are eager to make up for lost time. If any of you single ladies are having trouble finding a date, I recommend a trip to the Emerald Isle. Think you can/should resist the Irish charm? Then I strongly suggest you don't drink the Guinness.

Anonymous said...

To paraphrase a famous New Yorker cartoon, on the internet, no one knows your being (somewhat) sarcastic…

Yes, Christianity and Catholicism in particular introduced some pretty unnatural thoughts and unhealthy practices on human sexuality. It was a good initial theological fit to contrast the spiritual purity and hope of a new religion with the material decadence and decay of the fading Classical world. I suspect its effectiveness caused it to evolve into a practical policy for extending the Church’s control and power.

The logic is to take Judaism and exaggerate or outright fabricate the following ideas to exert irresistible centralized Church control:

(a) Establish the Church as your only legitimate spiritual mediator with God
(b) Create a hell of unimaginable terror and heaven of paradise
(c) Deem one of the most basic inborn biological drives repulsive/sinful
(d) Creating a lifelong daily cycle of sin, shame, fear and repentance
(e) Leading to an total reliance and unpayable debt to God’s Church on Earth

Judaism largely lacks these prominent features to its credit and in aid of worldly success and mental health.

The sarcasm was the “dirty hippy utopia” which should be parsed as dirty=disgusting, hippy=irresponsible and utopia=no where. Christianity offered a number of civilizing benefits over pagan lifestyles (e.g. infanticide), but it’s a loose fitting garment that conforms to the underlying culture. Thus we have the traditional promiscuous Italians/French/Africans vs prudish Irish/Germans/Asians "Christians".


michael farris said...

On Irish sexual mores:

warning, Wikipedia, but it's pretty much in line with what I remember of the book.

From what I understand from some Irish people I used to know, as late as the mid 90's, these kinds of ideas were still lurking not that far below the surface, even in Dublin.

Evil Sandmich said...

"Paul Johnson has suggested that our descendents won't understand how we complacently devoured the comparably intelligent pig. Too bad they're so tasty …"

That's something I never got with Islam's appeal.
No drinking
Cover your women
No bacon
whoa whoa whoa whoa, now hold it

Anonymous said...

"Judaism largely lacks these prominent features to its credit and in aid of worldly success and mental health."


If you're going to be pompous and/or borish it would behoove you to be grammatically as well as orthographically correct. I can tell from the above statement that you are as overconfident about your knowledge of religion as you are about your fluency in English - why would you ever use "an" before a word beginning with a consonant other than "h" and not always then?

I invite you to compare the Epic of Gilgamesh with the biblical/judeo-christian flood story. You will see that the debilitating guilt that underlies most dysfunction in judeo-christian societies had its origins in Judaism not Christianity. Also, the prevalence of Jews in fields such as Psychiatry ought to lead you to different conclusions.

Maybe you're incapable of gleaning information from the disparate sources available through comparative religion/literature and observation of modern culture.

Also, if you have to point out that you were being humorous/sarcastic, then the fault lies with your communication skills rather than the decoding skills of your unfortunate readers. Your haughtiness is only made palatable by your syntax errors, JAN. Other than frequent buffoonery, what is your purpose in life?

Anonymous said...


It's obvious from your protection of the insufferable JAN that it must be one of your few donors. But don't you feel just a bit like a slut for pandering to a pretentious moron for money? I hope you sold out for 1000s rather than 100s, Steve. Either way, I've lost the remaining respect I had for you. Is it possible that you could be reduced to this? :..(

Anonymous said...

"No bacon
whoa whoa whoa whoa, now hold it"

I dated a Muslim years ago. He always knew he was in trouble when I ordered the dreaded pepperoni pizza.

It's just too easy to control people who fear pork. If thugs were any smarter than thugs, they'd start holding up convenience stores with slabs of bacon.