Year of the Dog

Rated 4.0

In his directorial debut, screenwriter Mike White delivers a film as winningly idiosyncratic and nonjudgmental as a beloved pet. Year of the Dog is a rare feat, really: a movie about true companionship, the real, uncomplicated grace that people share with animals and, less frequently, with people. Molly Shannon plays an obeisant 40-something administrative functionary who can’t help but let the loss of her beloved beagle prompt a funny, touching, minor-key odyssey of self-discovery: She falls under the spell of a peculiar SPCA volunteer (an exquisite Peter Sarsgaard) and fumbles into animal-rights activism. White frames his tale just a bit too tidily, but what really matters is that he honors the direct expression of feeling that animals allow from us when we don’t allow it from each other—an expression without which, paradoxically enough, we become real beasts.