Wiener-Dog

 photo wiener_dog_zpsbwumiqbq.jpg photo starrating-4stars.jpgThey don’t call Todd Solondz “The King Of Feel-Bad Cinema” for nothing. Few directors expose the horror that exists beneath the well manicured facade of the suburban dream as frightfully as he. Wiener-Dog is only his 8th feature since 1989. A prolific filmmaker he is not. Welcome To The Dollhouse was the 1996 picture that put the New Jersey native on the indie map. It still remains his biggest success to this day. While subsequent releases have seen less box office, most have achieved a certain level of critical acclaim. All are informed by his cruel, albeit multi-layered take on the human condition.

In Wiener-Dog, four tales are linked together by the presence of the same dachshund. As she inhabits the lives of four different individuals, we come to learn the details of the families within. There’s Remi (Keaton Nigel Cooke), a sensitive little boy who is a cancer survivor, Dawn Wiener (Greta Gerwig), an awkward young woman who runs into an old crush, Dave Schmerz (Danny DeVito) a screenwriting professor disregarded by his students, and Nana (Ellen Burstyn), an elderly woman visited by her granddaughter (Zosia Mamet). You can see the director’s alter ego in the lead protagonist as the focus of each story gets a little older. The spirit of every principal beaten down by the inequities of life.

Mortality is a fact of life. Death isn’t a cheerful idea, but it is real. Because Todd Solondz deals in these themes, he is not an easy director to like. His worldview is bleak and pessimistic. Oh and did I mention this is a comedy? A very funny one at that if you can cuddle up to the movie’s prickly charms. The absurdity of the conversations within can be laugh out loud hilarious at times. There’s even an intermission scored to an original countrified song called “The Ballad of the Wiener-Dog”. It adds just the right amount of levity before embarking on the production’s even more somber 2nd half. Aided by gorgeous cinematography by Edward Lachman, he lends a hyper surreality to these mundane settings.

The pup in Wiener-Dog features heavily in each episode. Yet despite the title, this is really about people, not the canine. The beloved pet is merely a construct that gives us an excuse to follow an assortment of characters. There’s a world weary tone to these sagas, but there’s also the soul of humanity as well. For example the relationship between Remi and the dachshund is pure and sweet. They share a friendship to which his parents are immune. We sympathize with the various heroes in their respective vignettes, even though they may have serious flaws. There’s an authenticity to that. I mean we are flawed too, right? As the film marches to its inevitable conclusion, we brace ourselves. Todd Solondz has contempt for the Hollywood happy ending. Wiener-Dog is typified by a grisly finale that hits you like a slap in the face. Then the camera lingers on the event. There’s a palpable rage against society here.  The experience may sting, but the script still makes a sincere plea for mankind. I saw hope amidst the despair. That’s kind of powerful.

07-08-16

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15 Responses to “Wiener-Dog”

  1. Damn, I really would like to check this out as it is by the sounds of things about as radically different a movie as I first assumed it to be. I actually have lost track of this even coming out, thanks for reminding me about it.

    • I think it’s still going wider in the coming weeks. You could rent Todd Solondz’ Welcome to the Dollhouse or Happiness in the meantime. I’d love to read your take on those films.

  2. Eric Robert Wilkinson Says:

    Opens in PDX Friday and I am DYING to see it – embarking on a full Solondz retrospective via Video On Demand, DVD, etc in the meantime…he is one of my favorite filmmakers. Nobody gets at the humanity underneath the misanthropy like he does (I relate)

    • It’s weird because Todd Solondz’ perspective on life is quite different from my own. And yet I can really appreciate his movies. I think a lot has to do with where I think the director’s sympathies lie. For example everything Noah Baumbach did prior to Frances Ha was misanthropic in a way I didn’t enjoy.

      • Eric Robert Wilkinson Says:

        No I gotcha. Solondz I think finds the humor as well as the misanthropy. Baumbach was pricklier and meaner spirited – you have to have a REALLY dark and misanthropic viewpoint/sense of humor to find his earlier (pre-Greta Gerwig) films funny like I do (GREENBERG is a fave; FRANCES HA is a masterwork). Solondz remains marginalized and underrated and HAPPINESS remains his absolute masterpiece (imho). WIENER-DOG I cannot wait for πŸ™‚

      • I suspect you’ll really enjoy this. Let me know what you think.

      • Eric Robert Wilkinson Says:

        Here you go: http://letterboxd.com/polanski28/film/wiener-dog/ … I’m curious what you’ll think/if you’ll agree on my take… In the meantime, I was curious if you’ve ever listened to the man speak. There are tons of YouTube interviews available and he sounds like he’s got emphysema AND is on helium… it’s interesting because he sounds like his films feel – like a last gasp of life persevering constantly in the face of exhaustion

      • Oh my gosh! That is the most precise description of his voice I’ve ever heard. He talks about Wiener-Dog here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=erCxEHIAiPM

        I read your take. I liked the overview you give of Solondz’ career and the connections to his other films.

        P.S. I first heard Solondz called the “King of Feel-Bad Cinema” by Eric Kohn of IndieWire in this article: http://www.indiewire.com/2010/07/welcome-to-the-solondzverse-examining-todd-solondz-the-king-of-feel-bad-cinema-245249/. I liked the title and it stuck with me.

  3. What a surprise?! I thought it would be a wacky kind of comedic trip judging by the title and poster, but once you mentioned how you liked the powerful look at the human condition (and the surreality in the mundane), I’m really intrigued. Great review Mark πŸ™‚ I’m definitely seeing this.

  4. I enjoyed all the stories, but did not like the ending. 3 stars

  5. Weiner-Dog sounds super depressing. I haven’t seen any of Solondz’s movies, but I suspect I’m not his target audience, since I typically enjoy more upbeat affairs. From your description it seems like he tackles some meaty themes about the human condition. I still can’t say I feel enticed to see it however, despite your positive, well-written review.

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