This is a gentle, charming and touching film about human need; the need not only to feel love, but to express it even when inevitable imperfections persistently get in the way. This is meant not necessarily in a romantic sense but rather in any way that feels natural and allows us to accept who we are. Writer-director Mike White achieves this by scrutinising his idiosyncratic characters ruthlessly, yet he embraces their peculiarities positively and so makes them endearing even as they are played for gentle laughs. It is a refreshing approach and one that makes the translucent grace of the middle-aged dog lover Peggy (Molly Shannon) shine through, even amid her increasingly erratic behaviour.
She has trained herself as well as her beagle, Pencil, to the extent that she can just about forget the things that she never got out of life - and that she never really wanted in the first place - such as a husband. Her comfort zone lies within self-imposed boundaries, and it is only after a tragic twist of fate breaks them down that she is forced to find a new one. To this end we meet the likes of hunting enthusiast Al (John C. Reilly), celibate vegan Newt (Peter Sarsgaard) and many more and varied canines. Peggy’s quest to find a connection for her passions is a simple and brave one, initiated by grief and loneliness yet spurred on by something far stronger. Instead of hiding her love under fear and delusion, she comes to terms with the hope and comfort that can be gained from it. White captures this subtle shift, and manages to embed real spirit into this film.