Wiener-Dog (2016) Dir. Todd Solondz
This new film from Happiness director Todd Sololondz contains four separate stories that are connected by the ownership of a Wiener Dog (Dachshund) that passes from person to person.
Fans of Solondz will recognise his trademark dark comedy, controversial themes and dialogue and challenging narrative structures with each of the mini-episodes having its own strange focus. People who do not like Solondz’s previous movies will struggle to enjoy this but if you can make it through the awful first short tale, then audiences will find at least something in one of the various shaggy dog stories later on.
The first vignette follows a boy given a Dachshund (let’s stop the term Wiener Dog right here) but the parents have their doubts and as the boy feeds the dog granola bars, the poor hooch gets sick and is taken to be put down.
The intentionally humdrum settings and incredibly boring low-key conversations are passed off as high art and a long tracking shot of (literal) dog puke is strangely apt at this point. And the comedy? Well, I’ve argued before that humour is highly subjective but if you go the dark route – which I love by the way – imparting adult themed gross-out stories to a young kid is the intelligentsia equivalent of Bad Grandpa. The segment’s dialogue – “Heel, mother*cker” – was unnaturally cruel but just the tip of a distasteful iceberg.
That said, here the film’s clever construction leads us into story 2 where a vet takes pity on the hound and moves the dog from the surgery to nurse at home. After running into an old school friend (Kieran Culkin as Brandon) at a convenience store, she is invited on a road-trip where they cross with homesick Mexican hitchhikers who proclaim that America is depressing. Wrong so far! Watching the film to this point is. She names him “Doody” – another hilariously shit “shit metaphor” and then they leave the dog with Brandon’s brother and sister-in-law.
Yet, it was in this segment I started to warm to the film’s weird charms. I also found some humanity as family secrets and addictions are challenged and the acting was pushed to the forefront.
After a hilarious intermission involving the dog on green-screen walking across America with a country and western soundtrack, the hound arrives with screenwriting teacher Dave Schmerz (Danny De Vito). After his negativity invites complaints from students, his depression gets worse as a famous university alumni further embarrasses him. This leads to Schmerz using the dog as a bomb. Bomb dogs, Solondz? Better done by Chris Morris on The Day Today, my pedigree chum.
Finally, the film concludes with Ellen Burstyn’s grumpy Nana visited by her granddaughter and new artist boyfriend “Fantasy”. Nana day dreams of a life where she was more positive and the film ends on a Requiem for a Dream twisted note of death.
For me, the film delivers sporadic interest but it missed tickling my funny (dog) bone. In a film about the transient nature of modern America, Wiener-Dog is supposed to be a comedy. However, from the sad dog-in-a-cage beginning to the heartbreaking ending, the tale(s) are more melancholic than mirthful. But I suspect that is Solondz’s intent.
Midlands Movies Mike