Wiener Dog – DVD Review

Wiener Dog review below and at Flickering Myth.

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A Weiner-dog (or sausage dog in the UK) is another name for a dachshund, and the variously monikered creature is the common feature in this anthology film of four overarching chapters. Brought to the screen by indie-stalwart Todd Solondz, known for acerbic dark comic dramas Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness, Wiener-Dog is an oddly unfulfilling affair. Given the themes of depression and disillusionment, this is not entirely surprising, but the project also has the sense of being slightly under-cooked. Without giving too much away, for many the ending will leave a bitter taste, which again, is not too much of a surprise given Solondz’s previous work. It also leaves questions about how much is shock factor and how much is there for its own sake. In response to this, Solondz could simply show the film’s opening credit sequence which displays a Wiener-Dog alone and dejected in a dog pound cage. It’s not as if things started out too well for the character, is it, he may well ask…

In the first chapter, the lonely dog is momentarily freed from her physical imprisonment by a wealthy suburban family looking to offer their terminally ill son Remi (Keaton Nigel Cooke) a new playmate to aid his well-being. Stressed out mom (Julie Delpy) is terrified of the dog messing up their home, which leads dad (Tracie Letts) to soon insist that the dog is kept caged in the basement. Remi is just as imprisoned by his illness as Wiener-Dog is, and the two form a bond of companionship that is bitter-sweet to witness. On a rare release from their cages – Wiener-Dog’s physical and Remi’s emotional – they dance around the smartly decorated home with abandon. Unfortunately, a wrongly proffered granola bar leads to Wiener-Dog getting extremely ill and eventually put down.

In the second act, a nurse, Dawn Wiener, (the protagonist of Solondz’s 1995 film Welcome to the Dollhouse, played this time by Greta Gerwig), brings Wiener-Dog back to health and takes her home. She meets up with an ex-schoolmate/bully Brandon (Kieran Culkin)who convinces her to go on a country road trip with him to visit his brother and brother’s partner. This is the most successful part of the film to my mind, with great performances from Gerwig and Culkin bringing a believable and genuine disjointedness to interpersonal relationships. Dawn decides to leave Wiener-Dog at the sweet couple’s Ohio ranch and moves on with Brandon down the interstate and the rest of their lives.

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The third act follows Danny DeVito’s bored and unfulfilled screen-writing professor as he tries to get his own creative work together. DeVito is great as the pained Dave Schmerz, someone who for whatever reason never got what he was looking for. Instead of artistic success, he gets the sack from his workplace after getting poor performance ratings from his students. In response to life’s unfair treatment he looks to make an artistic statement in the wildest of ways; by blowing himself and his dog up to smithereens.

Finally, the fourth act features another case of unfulfilled ambition provided by Ellen Burstyn’s crotchety old Nana. Always in the company of her own Wiener-Dog, lovingly named ‘Cancer’, she is visited by her granddaughter (Zosai Mamet) and her boyfriend – a visual artist named Fantasy (Michael Shaw). It soon becomes clear that her welfare is not top of the youngster’s priorities and Nana is eventually left alone again (with Cancer) assessing her own missed opportunities and life choices.

A difficult melange of the serious and sarcastic, Wiener-Dog ultimately comes across as an interesting idea that outstays its welcome, like a dinner guest trying to impress with self-consciously ‘weird’ jokes and depressing scenarios. Worth watching for the second act, which strikes the right balance of profundity and touching humour, but otherwise the film plays out like much of the characters’ lives; somewhat disappointing.

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