Molly Shannon has made a career out "crazy", so it's not surprising that she shines here as the reclusive Peggy, whose closest and dearest friend is her pet beagle, Pencil. First-time director Mike White shows us how close they are, and how codependent Peggy is: they have dinner together, watch TV together, and sleep together, Peggy cuddling and hugging Pencil to her much as she might a boyfriend or husband. Pencil doesn't seem to mind.
But then Pencil is ripped from her life. Having trespassed onto a neighbor's lawn (John C. Reilly), he is found one morning lying on his side, unresponsive. A terrified Peggy tears off to the veterinarian, but it's too late. He's gone. White handles this delicate scene well. Instead of force-feeding Peggy's loss to us with frolicking scenes of a happy Peggy and a bouncing waggily-tailed Pencil, he simply shows her sobbing in her car in the vet's parking lot. It's raw emotion, and Shannon delivers.
The loss unhinges her, and she turns her mourning into a unique passion for life. Guided by an asexual clinic worker (Peter Saarsgard - if not brilliant as many are claiming, quite good in this roll) from her vet's office who helps place foster dogs, she is introduced to veganism, and PETA, amongst other "animal rights" activities, and she finds herself, suddenly, an accidental activist. Her newfound role disrupts the comfortable ones she has found herself in: spinster, gift-giving aunt, and trusted assistant to her boss.
I referenced above that Shannon has made a career out of "crazy", and while that's true, her more hilarious characters usually display their own unhinged grasp of reality through various forms of physical humor (Mary Catherine Gallagher on SNL, and Val Bassett on Will and Grace). Here Shannon is reserved, at once dramatic and comic.
Anyone that has ever had a pet (er, kid) is sure to love this. You'll laugh, you'll be choked up a bit, and in the end, you will probably cheer Peggy's courageous choices.