A few weeks ago I wholeheartedly recommended Amazing Grace as powerful feel-good movie bound to appeal to anybody involved in social justice movements, including animal rights. On Thursday I saw another animal friendly film, the Sundance festival hit, "Year of the Dog."
While I also recommend this film, I do so with a couple of caveats: It is quirky. If you love Mike White films, you will love it, if you generally hate them, you will probably have some problems with this one. I think, however, all animal advocates will be glad they saw it. I saw it at a screening full of animal people who generally adored it. I had somewhat mixed but mostly positive feelings about it, and find that days later it is still on my mind -- an unusual film feat.
My mixed feelings came from my discomfort at seeing animal rights activists portrayed as utter dweebs, and even worse, as crazy. This is what Manohla Dargis's New York Times review says about the film and its leading character:
"'Year of the Dog' is exactly the kind of story you would expect Mr. White to make for his directing debut. It's funny ha-ha but firmly in touch with its downer side, which means it's also funny in a kind of existential way. It stars the comic Molly Shannon as a woman who discovers her true self through a love of animals, though, not that kind of love. Shes not Catherine the Great, just Peggy the Good. Its a film about what it means to devote yourself to something other than your fears and desires, to shed that hard, durable shell called selfishness. It is, rather remarkably, an inquiry into empathy as a state of grace. And if that sounds too rarefied for laughs, rest assured, it's also about a stone-cold beautiful freak."
I wouldn't call Peggy a "freak" -- in fact one delightful aspect of the film is the way it reminds us that most people are odd in some way or other. But Peggy, the animal rights activist, seems odder than most, which brought about my discomfort. Yet I think Manohla Dargis later sums up that issue perfectly with the lines:
"In its broad outline, 'Year of the Dog' is the story of a woman who goes slightly bonkers and becomes an animal-rights advocate, not because shes bonkers, but because the love of animals is where she finally finds her peace of mind, sense of self, grace."
Dargis continues: "It's also about the creation of conscience, about what makes us human and why, a surprisingly little-told story in contemporary American cinema."
Dargis's whole review is positive and smart and well worth reading, but if I were planning on seeing the film I would wait till afterwards to read her review as she gives so much of the plot away. Once you have seen the film, or now if you don't mind having crucial scenes foretold in advance, you can read the Times review on line at http://movies2.nytimes.com/2007/04/13/movies/13dog.html
Saturday Night Live's Molly Shannon is backed by a great comedy cast including Laura Dern, Regina King , Thomas McCarthy, Josh Pais, Peter Sarsgaard and John C. Reilly.
As I have noted before, the best way to encourage animal friendly films is to go see them. The box office the opening weekend is closely monitored, so if you are thinking of seeing a flick tonight or tomorrow, I would recommend checking out "Year of the Dog."
Once you have seen it, don't forget that reviews or mentions of the film in celebrity interviews in your local paper present a perfect opportunity for letters to the editor about animal adoption, or any aspect of animal rights.
Always include your full name, address, and daytime phone number when sending a letter to the editor.
Yours and the animals',
(DawnWatch is an animal advocacy media watch that looks at animal issues in the media and facilitates one-click responses to the relevant media outlets. You can learn more about it, and sign up for alerts at http://www.DawnWatch.com. You may forward or reprint DawnWatch alerts if you do so unedited -- leave DawnWatch in the title and include this parenthesized tag line. If somebody forwards DawnWatch alerts to you, which you enjoy, please help the list grow by signing up. It is free.)
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Date: Sat Apr 14 14:48:40 2007