Sundance Film Festival
The dachshund seems to reside among the most loved dog brands these days, no doubt due in part to how social media-friendly these pint-sized canines are. I’ve fielded a number of inquiries from friends in the past few months about the film “Wiener-Dog,” which proudly touts its four-legged star. And to each of them, I have issued a profound warning to stay away.
Writer/director Todd Solondz plays on those shared cultural feelings of fondness for wiener-dogs, and the marketing/advertising echoes such associations. But Amazon Studios and IFC just want to harness these to sell you tickets or get you to rent the movie. Solondz wields this power with a much more perverse intent. He wants to sell you a nihilistic vision of a cruel world with no sympathy or concern for even a cute dog. The wiener-dog is the vessel for drawing in the unsuspecting, the naive and the hopeful.
Most of this does not become apparent until the last of the film’s four parts (no spoilers, but stay away if animal cruelty bothers you.) Prior, “Wiener-Dog” finds some fun in its blunt, cynical assessment of life. Each section of the film, connected only by the presence of traveling dachshund Doodie, serves as a commentary on a different season of life: youth, adulthood, middle-age and, ultimately, senility. The first half, featuring lovably quirky turns from actors like Greta Gerwig and Julie Delpy, expresses Solondz’s worldview without resorting to outlandish measures.
But once the film passes its musical-filled intermission, which feels gratuitous for a 90 minute movie, things take a turn for the worse. Danny DeVito’s section about a film professor who all but gives up on life gets unbearably mopey. And when Ellen Burstyn’s Nana arrives on screen, practically in the grave, Solondz veers into a turn that feels downright mean to the audience since it is so unearned
I have my views on big existential dilemmas, and so does Todd Solondz. We can agree to disagree, as I frequently do with filmmakers, and still enjoy the work in question. I find it very hard to table my differences, however, when it comes to “Wiener-Dog.” Solondz so clearly illuminates his thoughts on the absurdity of being when he executes a shockingly beautiful pan over a heap of diarrhea or crafts a droll, deadpan line. His parting gestures abandon the nuance of his artistry in favor of shocks and screams, collapsing the film under the weight of its own pessimism. C /