Todd Solondz is well known as a filmmaker who revels in the dark and twisted shortcomings of the human race. Set against the backdrop of mundane misery and familial disquiet, his movies are often darkly satirical plays on where he believes society has erred. Weiner-Dog is simply a continuation of that work.
As the name suggests, it’s an ordinary Dachshund that threads together what is essentially a series of short films in this thinly veiled tale of woe. Acting as the casual observer this uncharismatic dog, whose name changes several times through her progression of oddball owners, offers us a depressing window into the director’s dour commentary.
Firstly, Wiener-Dog introduces nine-year-old Remy (Keaton Nigel Cooke), who receives “Weiner-Dog” as a gift from his father (Tracy Letts) to ease the burden of his recovery from cancer. In this episode Solondz highlights the usual plights of suburban discontent he is known for, while pushing his message of mortality with awkwardly worded speeches between Remy and his mother (Julie Delpy) in a series of car trips that culminate in a comment by the young boy that “death is a good thing”. The climax, however, is a particularly bizarre and overdrawn shot of doggy diarrhoea, which starts out as amusing and quickly becomes a form of poetic absurdity.
The next character is a familiar one: Dawn Weiner (Greta Gerwig), who debuted in the director’s Welcome to the Dollhouse as the awkward seventh-grader, played then by Heather Matarazzo. Now a socially inept veterinarian’s assistant, Dawn steals the Dachshund away to save her from euthanasia and finds herself on a road trip with an old classmate (Keiran Culkin) that involves keeping up a drug habit and visiting his brother, who has Down’s Syndrome, to tell him that their father died. A few touching moments take place, but typical of this filmmaker’s creations, things don’t stay that way for long.
After this comes Dave Schmerz, the down-and-out film school lecturer desperately trying to get his script read. Solondz has a good swipe here at political correctness and the independent film industry, but it comes off a little sour and not quite as witty and graceful as his previous works. It’s the final character, Nana (Ellen Burstyn), who is by far the best. A typical bad-attitude old lady, she delivers some great one-liners and moments, including incinerating a gift her granddaughter gives her. But it’s the dream sequence of her past selves, shown as ten or so little redheaded girls, that lends the greatest poignancy, examining and drawing together how our choices in life can impact our futures.
Wiener-Dog is released nationwide on 12th August 2016.
Watch the trailer for Wiener-Dog here: