Not only is Year of the Dog Mike White's directorial debut, but in the eyes of his fans, it heralds a return to form. The former Freaks and Geeks writer made a big splash with 2000's creepy but tender Chuck and Buck, and followed it up with the wonderfully dark romance The Good Girl. But then he penned School of Rock and Nacho Libre, and many of us began to wonder if we'd ever see any more of White's signature pathological storytelling again.

Now he returns with Year of the Dog, destined to occupy the Twee Cinema aisle of your local video store, right next to movies like Little Miss Sunshine and Me and You and Everyone We Know. Year of the Dog is full of the emo whimsy and awkwardness that define the genre, spiced with a whole lot of earnestness and a splash of edginess.

In what will surely be a career-defining role, Molly Shannon creates an astonishingly real character in Peggy, a woman who listens to her coworkers complain about their love lives day in and day out, then silently eats dinner with her adorable beagle every night. But when her pooch unexpectedly dies, Peggy's world crumbles, and we watch her slowly dissolve into an unexpected form of madness: animal rights activism. After stumbling on something that finally gives her life meaning, Peggy loses all perspective on life until she's ultimately a threat to society.

An amazing cast of characters supports Shannon, including her uptight sister-in-law (Laura Dern), her spineless, weasely boss (Josh Pais), and her hilariously shallow coworker (Regina King). Year of the Dog is filled with great writing and lots of laugh-out-loud moments—at first.

Unfortunately, White has no idea how to wrap this movie up, so the second half drags and meanders until a startlingly sloppy ending is slapped on with five minutes left in the film. Year of the Dog would be great if we didn't feel the need to watch movies all the way through; I'd recommend the first half of this one to everybody I know. But the ending is so god-awful that one can't help but cringe and say it: White really screwed the pooch with this one.