Starring Tracy Letts, Julie Delpy, Greta Gerwig, Kieran Culkin, Danny DeVito, Ellen Burstyn
Filmmaker Todd Solondz was the first director to truly scare me with a film. No he isn’t a horror director, but a button pusher. Solondz writes and directs with vivid and often taboo subject matter to shock the audience. His early work Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995) and Happiness (1998), were cult classics that put him in the company of Larry Clark or Gus Van Sant. Solondz remains an outsider, his films will play festivals and often star the bigger names of independent cinema. They continue often prompt walkouts, furry from critics, and audiences who are unfamiliar with his work, vowing to never see another one of his films. Thus was a similar reaction for Wiener Dog at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Danny (Letts) decides to get his son a dog to help with understanding responsibility, and the fact his son has been recovering from a debilitating infection. His wife Dina (Delpy) doesn’t think this new family member, called simply Wiener Dog, is such a good idea. While Remi (Keaton Nigel Cooke) is very mature and knowledgeable for his age, he doesn’t understand why Wiener Dog must be spade and he finds out the hard way why you don’t give puppies granola bars. Dawn Wiener (Gerwig) works as a veterinarian assistant whose next patient is a sick wiener dog ready for euthanization. She hijacks the sick puppy and nurses him back to health. Screenwriting professor Dave Schmerz (DeVito) might be the most hated teacher on campus. Unable to connect with the modern student, the one hit wonder is desperate to have his latest script read by his agent giving him the run around.
What starts off as a well written, dark satire on responsibility and childhood dedication, quickly veers into something uninspired.
There are four segments to Wiener Dog, the first two seem to be connected by Remi’s sick dog and the sick dog Dawn removes from the clinic. The connection is never made between segment one and two, but after the intermission (c’mon, really, it’s an 88- minute film, do we really need an intermission, or did Solondz just run out of ideas?), segment three is clearly not connected to the previous or the forthcoming. What starts off as a well written, dark satire on responsibility and childhood dedication, quickly veers into something uninspired. Delpy’s few moments on screen prove she is one of the most underrated and underused actress of that generation. It’s fitting being a screenwriter herself, she would be paired with another actor/writer Letts.
Not that anyone remembers Welcome to the Dollhouse well enough, but segment two is supposed to be a continuation of those characters. However, the original Dawn Wiener played by Heather Matarazzo turned down the role and it was recast with Gerwig. Wiener Dog goes progressively downhill from the opening segment until the fourth where Oscar nominee Burstyn’s character isn’t even given a name, just “Nana”. If the classical music cut to artistic shots of diarrhea in the first segment wasn’t “Solondz” enough for you, he saves his big shock factor moment right to the end. It’s a cheap gimmick and those angry walkouts give this film too much credit by insinuating this film is capable of having enough emotion to make you feel anything for anyone you see on screen.
A segmented film that loses itself on the segue.