Not surprising to anyone familiar with screenwriter Mike White's merciless outlook on humanity, Year of the Dog is not all sunshine and roses. However, those who've never heard of the man may come to White's first directing effort unwittingly, mistaking it for one of those cheery romantic comedies centered around pet ownership. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it's difficult to tell what perspective White has on owning a pet. He's more interested in how animal activism can take over a person's life -- how a passionate hatred of animal cruelty, coupled with the perceived powerlessness to stop it, can overwhelm the psyche. If the movies have given us numerous superhero origin stories, Year of the Dog might be considered the origin story of a "crazy cat lady." (Molly Shannon plays a crazy dog lady, but we don't have that phrase in our lexicon.) It's difficult to watch Shannon's good intentions twisted into something single-minded and antisocial, though White is clever enough to keep things from seeming unremittingly dour. A bubbly score (by Christophe Beck) and a general sense of whimsy pervade Year of the Dog, which is certainly a lighter affair than either Chuck & Buck or The Good Girl (both written by White). Shannon, the Saturday Night Live vet, is to be commended for not trying to peddle any particular schtick. She could have played the character for laughs, but she and White are smart enough to make hers a story of subtle ennui and alienation, even while allowing some dry absurdities to creep through. (And to their credit, they leave the funniest moments to Laura Dern as an overprotective mother.) Year of the Dog doesn't ultimately carry a clear message, but as the study of a particular mindset driven to extremes, it has value.