Wiener-Dog Review

Wiener-dog

One balmy Summer evening sometime during the previous millennium, a dashing and idealistic young chap about town had arranged a late night rendezvous with a charming and impressionable girl he’d trained his sights upon.

The man knew he was onto a sure thing. Buy a spot of supper. A couple of glasses of red wine, make her laugh, make her cry…

Make her think a bit.

They could take in a movie; after all, small talk can be exhausting. But what to watch?

Best not recommend that new action movie. No they must watch a film with heart, perhaps a rom-com? Maybe something alternative? A story positioned to the left of the mainstream. His enthusiasm for such content betraying a hitherto unforeseen layer of emotional depth.

This would almost be too easy.

The moral of this story, regretfully for our charismatic young hero, is as follows: do not take a nursery teacher to view a film that is essentially a depiction of child abuse, told from the point of view of the paedophile, and then expect a ‘happy-ending’.

The film in question was Happiness, an earlier film in the canon of the misanthropic enfant terrible of American independent movies, Todd Solondz. A story-teller practically allergic to conventional happy endings.

It was with this cautionary tale in mind that I escorted a good friend of mine, a committed animal rights activist, to watch Wiener-Dog, the latest Solondz tale of innocent joy and wonder. In his typical style Wiener Dog is told as a collection of vignettes tied together by a common thread, in this instance the dachshund of the title.

First of all, as the cherished pet of, Remi, a boy recovering from illness, Wiener-Dog is to be put- down after he defecates all over the family home when fed a granola bar but also, perhaps more importantly, for refusing to adhere to the simple command ‘heel, mother-fucker’.

Rescued from this grisly fate by a sympathetic vetinary nurse, Wiener-Dog then embarks upon a road trip with his saviour and her new friend, a heroin addict.

We next see him as the companion of a failed Hollywood scriptwriter turned lecturer whose old school advice to students is the subject of public ridicule. Then lastly as the pet of a lonely, elderly lady, who sweetly names him Cancer.

As these stories develop it becomes apparent that it is not so much the dog that is the common theme but rather more the misery and hopelessness of the characters who care for him.

As with other Solondz films the general tone is somewhere between black comedy and outright depression. Curiously the effect is generally quite satisfying and unlikeable characters often become endearing.

Julie Delpy and Tracy Letts as Remi’s miserable parents display a palpable and healthy hatred for each other to the exclusion of their misunderstood son. Both Gita Grewig as the nurse and her friend played by Kieran Culkin navigate the humdrum of their singular existences as if on autopilot, both unwilling and unable to change their self-destructive ways.

Danny DeVito is heart-breaking as Dave Schmertz, the failed scriptwriter. Fully aware of his professional and personal failings and the complete lack of interest anybody has in him Schmertz turns to desperate measures just to be noticed.

All of the stories involve death in some way, be it a relative, a marriage or career. In fact all of the characters behave as if they have given up, willing to take their own lives.

The downside to all of this gloom is that by the time we meet Ellen Burstyn’s rich widow, full of regret for her past indiscretions, many viewers will have been rendered exhausted by this repeated cycle of destruction.

Wiener Dog is a typically off-beat film that will appeal to fans of Todd Solondz and perhaps not so much to those who have been previously found his work to be offensive.

And in case anyone is wondering how my date for the evening found the film it is with great relief that I can report that no animals were harmed in its making.

Frank Gardiner

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