Top movie: “The Year Of the Dog” (US, 2007)

Look around any office. Whales wave their flukes at you. Cute dogs wear bows. Yes, there are baby-snaps and families get a look in. But animals really are it. This clever movie takes things a touching step further.

Don’t kid yourself. We all need to give and get love. And we all need to be sentimental. Don’t mock the soft-toy tendency. It could happen to you, and make you a nicer person.

That is roughly the thesis of this dead-pan, wickedly well-performed and really quite disturbing movie. It’s some sort of comedy, but only in a very sick-puppy sort of way.

Laura Shannon plays Peggy, an office worker, straight as an arrow. She doesn’t beg for our sympathy and certainly lets everyone else have the laughs. (In particular, Laura Dern, playing her sister-in-law, gets a proper satirical turn as a modern suburbanite mum.) Peggy is looking for love, preferably from a man but from a mutt (or any number of mutts) if that fails. Stuck with the hopelessness of the modern maleĀ (always an easy trope), she gets more and more into animal-worship.

But here’s the twist. One is made aware that her devotion to animals is entirely logical. I mean that even if she had found a man, as most women do, her being bound up with him would only have been a distraction from a human responsibility for animal suffering. In short, we are made to see that though she is an extremist, she is definitely on to something.

This is the antithesis of a feel-good movie. It is bleak. But it is also realistic. Just as we think Peggy has disappeared into nuttiness, she is rescued by nearly everyone around her. Her reward to them is that she becomes quite sane again. And more quiet and resolute in the cause of animals.

I can’t at this moment think of the proper movie parallels here. The marvellous Best In Show is an obvious one. But I am sure there are more.

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Publication date

04 December 2008