Wiener-Dog (2016)

wienerdog_2016_poster
  • Time: 90 min
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Director: Todd Solondz
  • Cast: Danny DeVito, Greta Gerwig, Kieran Culkin, Keaton Nigel Cooke, Tracy Letts

Storyline:

A dachshund passes from oddball owner to oddball owner, whose radically dysfunctional lives are all impacted by the pooch.

One review

  • The spectrum of human life is seen through a dachshund’s eyes in Wiener-Dog, writer-director Todd Solondz’s eighth feature film in a career that’s spanned nearly two decades.

    Robert Bresson’s classic Au Hasard, Balthasar, wherein the titular donkey is passed from owner to owner, steadfastly bearing its burdens, is an obvious touchstone for the singularly mordant Solondz who begins and ends the film with its titular protagonist, contemplative and resigned, boxed and on display. The dachshund is the throughline for the quartet of vignettes that comprise the film.

    The dog’s first owner is Remi (Keaton Nigel Cooke), a nine-year-old who’s in remission from cancer. Remi is heartily cheered by the dog’s presence, but his parents (Tracy Letts and Julie Delpy) are intent on curbing his enthusiasm with their complaints and irritations. His dad insists on keeping the dog in a cage until it’s housebroken (“You’ve got to break their will so they can submit to your will,” he explains to his inquisitive son), while his mom fields his curiosities about spaying the dog with a vivid accounting of how her childhood dog was raped by a neighbourhood dog, got pregnant, was depressed, gave birth to stillborn babies, and then died. “If only she’d gotten spayed,” his mom remarks before telling him that the rapist dog kept raping until it was shot, skinned and made into a purse. Wiener-Dog, as Remi nicknames the dog, doesn’t quite meet the same fate as those dogs, but Remi’s devotion backfires when he accidentally poisons Wiener-Dog, resulting in a diarrhetic punchline that keeps going and going and going until one wonders how the dog could survive such an exodus of excrement.

    Destined to be put to sleep, the dog is rescued by lonely veterinary assistant, Dawn Wiener (Greta Gerwig), the remarkably beleaguered schoolgirl that fronted Solondz’s breakthrough film, Welcome to the Dollhouse, and who was once nicknamed Wiener-Dog. A chance encounter with her childhood tormentor Brandon (Kieran Culkin) leads to Dawn and Doody (as Dawn christens the dachshund) on a road trip to Ohio, during which they pick up three hitchhiking Mariachi sings before arriving at the home of Brandon’s brother Tommy (Connor Long) and wife April (Bridget Brown), a mentally disabled couple who take an immediate liking to Doody. This vignette ends on a brief, almost uncharacteristic moment of tenderness for Solondz before a surprising, outrageous and thoroughly enjoyable intermission set to a folksy tune entitled “The Ballad of the Wiener-Dog.”

    Unfortunately, the following two vignettes – featuring Danny DeVito’s moribund professor and Ellen Burstyn as a physically feeble but mentally and ruthlessly lucid grandmother – feel drearier and somewhat indulgent in comparison to those that came before them. Both are slightly redeemed by individual moments – in DeVito’s, the sight of the dachshund costumed in a yellow dress and adorned with a ticking time bomb; in Burstyn’s, a sequence where she confronts a succession of her younger selves – the self she would have been had she liked other people, the self she would have been had she liked herself, etc.

    Outrage and heartlessness are the twin constants of Solondz’s work and they are certainly not in short supply here. The prevalent message is the extent to which life is unfair and impassive to everyone’s struggles. Everyone will be given a cross or several to bear just like Wiener-Dog, who can only consign herself again and again to life’s wheel of fortune. Despite the cruelties that litter the film, there are many moments of beauty and whimsy to be found amidst and within the various repulsions: Remi and Wiener-Dog’s exuberant play as feathers fall around them, the long tracking shot of the trail of feces that is accompanied by Debussy’s “Clair de Lune”; the bevy of Burstyn’s copper-tressed selves; a victim getting run over and over again; and that chilling and perversely funny final shot of man’s best friend, forever complacent, and forever trapped in a fate it never deserved or expected. And life goes on.

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