The Films of Mike White
Year of the Dog (April 21/07)
The directorial debut of noted screenwriter Mike White, Year of the Dog casts Molly Shannon as Peggy - a lonely legal secretary whose life is thrown into turmoil after the death of her beloved dog Pencil. Though she tries to cope by taking in another pooch (thanks to the help of Peter Sarsgaard's friendly animal control employee), Peggy soon finds herself spiraling into an increasingly depressed state (Laura Dern costars as Peggy's well-meaning but utterly clueless sister-in-law, while John C. Reilly plays a dimwitted neighbor). White's expectedly quirky sensibilities are on full display here, and it ultimately becomes clear that the material would've benefited from a more traditional approach - as the surprisingly dark storyline is often at odds with White's lighthearted touch (the inclusion of several overtly loopy supporting characters surely doesn't help matters). The filmmaker's unflinching modus operandi - particularly in terms of portraying Peggy's downward spiral - certainly lends the proceedings an intermittently awkward vibe, and one can't help but marvel at the depths of despair that the movie occasionally reaches. Shannon's undeniably strong performance goes a long way towards cementing this feeling, and although there's little doubt that the film will alienate as many viewers as it pleases, Year of the Dog remains an intriguing (if decidedly uneven) debut effort.
Written and directed by Mike White, Brad's Status follows Ben Stiller’s title character as he begins questioning his life choices while on a trip with his teenage son (Austin Abrams' Troy). Filmmaker White, who improves upon his passable debut, Year of the Dog, by leaps and bounds, delivers a trenchant and thoroughly relatable opening stretch that effectively establishes the central character and his midlife malaise, with the compelling atmosphere perpetuated by a seriously impressive, perhaps career-best performance by Stiller (ie Stiller does a superb job of transforming Brad into a sympathetic figure without sacrificing his more overtly misanthropic characteristics). White's decision to pepper the proceedings with encounters and happenings stemming from Brad's imagination is odd, to say the least, and yet it works, as the movie is otherwise grounded in reality and such moments prove a compelling counterpoint to the protagonist's almost relentless self-loathing. It's interesting to note, as well, that Brad's Status is generally lacking in the overt instances of quirkiness that one might've expected, and although the movie does suffer from a handful of lulls here and there, there's little doubt that it ultimately, in addition to marking a huge leap forward for White as a filmmaker, stands as an often palpably moving character study.