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Review: Wiener-Dog

Wiener-Dog
06.22.2016
7 10

PLOT: An adorable dachshund goes from owner to owner. On her journey, she finds that each family she encounters is dealing with their complicated lives impacted by their new pet.

REVIEW: If you are walking into a Todd Solondz movie, don’t expect to have a ton of sweet-natured and heartfelt movie moments. Ever since WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE, the indie filmmaker enjoys the strange comfort of a cynical world. The characters he creates are oftentimes depraved, and sometimes just stuck inside their own meaningless world. In his latest, WIENER-DOG, he brings a couple of familiar characters back - as he likes to do - and creates a series of odd fables with a dog connecting it all together. This peculiar story begins at an animal shelter where a little wiener-dog has been temporarily placed. And it ends, with one of the most disturbed bits of cinema you are likely to see on screen this year. I’m not talking brutal or grotesque, but it is certainly uncomfortable to watch. Of course, this is a film by Todd Solondz so that shouldn’t be all that surprising.

The Wiener-Dog in question goes by many names. What they call her all depends on the owners and what inspires them. And in this tale of a dog looking for a home, she finds a number of strangers to share her life with. The first is a boy with arguably too harsh parents when it comes to explaining death and rape to their young son. After living with the boy, Wiener-Dog moves in with a familiar character to this filmmaker’s environment, Dawn Wiener. When she and her old “friend” Brandon - both characters originated in WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE - travel to see his family in Ohio, Dawn gives the dog to a couple of young people with Down Syndrome. Somehow, after an intermission, the dog ends up in the hands of film school teacher/failed screenwriter Dave Schmerz (Danny DeVito). After a bomb scare involving Wiener-Dog shakes that up, she finds a new home with an ailing old woman (Ellen Burstyn). If this sounds incredibly weird, it is. If you aren’t familiar with Solondz work, this may not be the best place to start.

While it may appear as if I may be slightly negative on this particular filmmaker and film, that is not the case at all. It’s rare to see a filmmaker take acclaimed actors and make them so very flawed or confused. Yet this director is a master at that. In one scene, the lovely Julie Delpy has a very disturbing conversation with her son about doggie rape. It’s amazing that she and her unusually angry husband Danny (Tracy Letts) appear to have so many priorities over the well being of their child. In fact, every single character in a Todd Solondz flick is so terribly dysfunctional, but for fans, that can be part of the fun. When it comes to dialogue, there is a whole lot of ugly spewed out here. And then, at just the right moment, there is a hint of joy and heart. The director has always felt to me like a less colorful and more morose John Waters - perhaps with a little R-rated Woody Allen thrown in.

With each story taking approximately twenty-minutes or so, the focus really is on the dog. Even still, the dog isn’t really heavily featured. She’s just there. Probably the most touching relationship between man’s best friend and the owner is Dawn Wiener (Greta Gerwig), along with Brandon (Kieran Culkin). Originally played by Heather Matarazzo - whose nickname in DOLLHOUSE was Wiener-Dog - and Brendan Sexton III, the two characters look nothing like their younger selves obviously. That is also common in Solondz movies. He loves to cast very different actors to return to play a character originally portrayed by somebody else. The strangest character here is likely the legendary Ellen Burstyn. The actress is always so good playing quirky and offbeat and this is no exception.

Solondz has an interesting grasp on life and the many trivial nightmares that come up with it - okay, not always trivial. And to place so much of the transition on the dog and where she ends up living is exactly what you would expect from the director. It is strange how minuscule the connections are between the families taking in Wiener-Dog - almost as curious as the names she is given. While the first two households seemed to legitimately connect, the last couple feel a bit more random. However, I tend to think that Todd may have a couple of hidden reasons that didn’t catch on with my first viewing. If you have an appreciation for films like WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE or HAPPINESS, you have a much better chance of enjoying the black humor of WIENER-DOG.

When it comes to Todd Solondz work, I expect a cynical fantasy with just a hint of hope. And this is certainly what you get with a movie about a wiener-dog and the families she stays with. Yet the way the filmmaker tells his story is not for everybody, and this certainly won’t be a movie that will connect with mainstream audiences. Hell, it features one of the most depressing bits of humor near the end, something that a ton of you will not appreciate. I’m still trying to wrap the last ten minutes or so around my head. Thankfully though, this dog’s journey is a short one. The movie only runs about 90 minutes and it still features an intermission. If you are looking for bizarre, you will find it here, just wait until you hear the two songs that consistently play throughout - both are about wiener-dogs. If you are a fan of Solondz work, you will enjoy this dog story.

Source: JoBlo.com

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