Well known to 'Saturday Night Live' aficionados, Molly Shannon has also popped up in the comic films 'Evan Almighty' and 'Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby' as well as more dramatic fare ('Marie Antoinette', 'American Splendour'). In 'Year of the Dog', Shannon takes the lead role of a woman who ultimately finds herself through her love of animals. 

Opening in a light comic vein, Peggy (Shannon) happily lives on her own in Southern California with her dog, a charming little beagle called Pencil. The two are best friends, spending days playing together and snuggling up in bed every night. One evening Pencil eats something he shouldn't and his death shakes something loose in Peggy. The film rapidly takes a dark turn as she turns into a vegan, tries to persuade workmates to adopt a dog, starts forging cheques to animal rights groups, liberates a few fur coats and becomes an animal activist, alienating her friends, family and boss in the process.

Writer-director Mike White, who also wrote 'Nacho Libre' and 'The Good Girl', seems undecided on whether he should aim for slapstick or drama. The presence of John C Reilly signals comedy; a trip in the country which ends in a little girl sobbing to Aunt Peggy that she doesn't want to see battery chickens being killed is another thing altogether. White does point up the inanities of people's obsessions - Peggy's brother (McCarthy) and sister-in-law (a wonderfully vacuous Dern), although kind to Peggy, are terribly preoccupied with their kids; her workmate Layla (King) constantly goes on about her man; boss Robin (Pais) loves talking about minutiae of corporate politics. White writes good lines, this is all worth watching, but Peggy's melodramatic withdrawal from their world does not entirely ring true.

Uneven in tone, 'Year of the Dog' is an odd little character study. Although Shannon is great in the central role, she doesn’t quite manage to make Peggy's transformation believable. There are also wonderful performances from Regina King, Peter Sarsgaard, Laura Dern and Josh Pais although John C Reilly is sadly underused. Dog lovers will enjoy the antics of Peggy's many hounds but they, with the rest of the audience, will leave the theatre scratching their head as they try to figure out 'Year of the Dog'.

Caroline Hennessy