It premiered January 20, 2007, at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.
Shannon stars as Peggy, a forty-something administrative assistant whose social and love life are slim to nil. Her most intimate bond is with her dog, Pencil. One morning Pencil refuses to come in after being let out to do his business, and a half-awake Peggy lets him stay outside overnight. The next morning she finds him in the yard of her neighbor Al (John C. Reilly) whimpering in pain. She takes him to a vet but it is too late; Pencil dies of toxic poisoning.
The people in her life react with sympathy but mostly make her feel guilty for her grief. Best friend Layla (Regina King) tells Peggy her relationship with Pencil had held her back from finding romance. Her emotionally sterile sister-in-law (Laura Dern) and brother Pier (Thomas McCarthy) are too self-absorbed to sense how deeply hurt Peggy is.
Peggy's neighbor, Al, asks Peggy on a date. It starts out well until Al reveals that he lost his own pet dog by accidentally shooting it in a hunting accident. When the two return to his home he shows off his knife collection and hunting trophies. He is oblivious to Peggy's distaste for this. She asks to see his garage, suspicious that something inside poisoned Pencil. Al makes a pass which she rejects in disgust.
Peggy gets a call from Newt (Peter Sarsgaard), a volunteer at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals who was present when Pencil died. He tells Peggy he has a new dog she may like to adopt: Valentine, a King Shepherd with behavioral problems. Newt agrees to help train Valentine, and he and Peggy begin to spend a lot of time together.
Through Newt, Peggy is exposed to veganism and to animal rights information. She becomes a vegan and begins helping Newt to adopt out various animals slated for euthanasia. Chastised by her boss Robin (Josh Pais) for her commitment, she retaliates by donating to various animal-related charities from his checkbook.
Peggy and Newt share a kiss, Newt declining to go any further, which she mistakes for chivalry. She confesses she has fallen in love; Newt reveals that he is celibate, implying he is asexual. Peggy reacts badly, shutting out Newt and instead focusing on her new relationship with Valentine. Valentine's sporadically violent behavior worsens without Newt's instruction; he bites Peggy's hand. The dog also continually barks, causing Al to complain. Peggy responds rudely, insinuating that it is her revenge because she thinks something in his garage must have poisoned Pencil.
Peggy's interest in animal rights deepens, particularly the causes to stop animal testing and of farm communities for animals who were previously meant to die. Her new belief system is looked at flippantly by her brother and sister-in-law; when she announces she is a vegan, he responds: "It will be interesting to see how long this lasts."
On New Year's Eve weekend Peggy agrees to babysit her brother's children. She leaves Valentine in the care of Newt. She takes her young niece Lissie (Amy Schlagel, Zoe Schlagel) and nephew Benji to a farm for rescued animals to introduce them to an "adopted" chicken (a charity sponsorship) she got them for Christmas. Intensely moved by the experience, Peggy has a mini-breakdown in the car. She wants to show them a slaughterhouse, but the children freak out.
Peggy gets drunk and discovers a rack of furs in her sister-in-law's closet. She tries them on in a bathroom and ultimately passes out drunk. Furs she left in the bathtub are ruined from the faucet's drip. She goes to Newt's to pick up Valentine and finds Newt weeping. Valentine killed a crippled dog named Buttons, and Newt sent Valentine to be put down because he knew Peggy did not have the fortitude to do so.
She rushes to the dog pound but is too late; Valentine has been dead for two hours. Peggy suffers a mental break and adopts 15 dogs slated to die; she lies, saying she works with the SPCA and intends to find them all homes. Peggy at work is confronted by her boss. He has discovered the fraudulent checks and she is fired.
Peggy's life falls apart. She barely leaves her home, which is practically destroyed by her new pets. Al complains, saying if she does not find a way to control them he will. While she is out, Newt visits, confiscates the dogs and leaves a warning notice from the SPCA. Peggy erroneously blames Al.
She sneaks into Al's house and finds molluscicide with a hole chewed into the corner, confirming her suspicions about Pencil's death. Zombie-like, she drags the bag through the house, leaking poison pellets everywhere. She takes one of Al's hunting knives and hides. When Al and a girlfriend return home, Peggy attacks with the knife. Al wrestles it away from her and calls the police.
Peggy's brother and sister-in-law try to help. They say Peggy's boss has decided if she pays back everything and goes to counselling he will rehire her. They ask why Peggy attacked Al. She says she wanted him to know what it felt like to be hunted.
Peggy returns to work and is greeted warmly. But soon an internet search leads her to information about an upcoming animal rights protest. She sends an email to her coworkers (including Layla), boss, Newt, brother and sister-in-law. She must follow her soul. She abandons her former life and heads off to the protest, content that fighting for animals is her greater reason for living (as opposed to child-rearing, career, or intimate human relationships).Molly Shannon - Peggy Spade
Laura Dern - Bret
Regina King - Layla
Thomas McCarthy - Pier
Josh Pais - Robin
John C. Reilly - Al
Peter Sarsgaard - Newt
Amy Schlagel and Zoe Schlagel - Lissie
Dale Godboldo - Don
Inara George - Holly
Liza Weil - Trishelle
The film received positive reviews from critics. As of December 31, 2007, the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 70% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 134 reviews. On Metacritic, the film had an average score of 70 out of 100, based on 31 reviews.
Associated Press film critic David Germain named the film the #10 best film of 2007.
The film won Best Feature Film at the 22nd Genesis Awards.
The film opened in limited release on April 13, 2007; and, in its opening weekend, it grossed $108,223 in seven theaters. The film's widest release was in 152 theaters in its fifth week.
The film grossed $1,596,953 worldwide — $1,540,141 in the United States and Canada and $56,812 in other territories.