Posted Aug 10 2016

Wiener-Dog - This Movie Walks The Dog, Rarely Rocks It

Dir: Todd Solondz

Starring Greta Gerwig, Tracy Letts, Julie Delpy, Danny DeVito, Zosia Mamet, Kieran Culkin

So, it’s a movie about castration. Or possibly cannibalism. Or screenwriting. Or working in Hollywood in general. Or having never fulfilled your potential Or all – or none - of the above.  We’ve seen it – and we’re still not sure. We’re also pretty sure that writer-director Solondz is pretty unsure himself.

Much like the titular dachshund – or “wiener-dog” as everyone here prefers – Todd Solondz’ new film is something of a curious beast. Intentionally so. The arthouse darling (who hasn’t really pleased anyone in a while) focuses on a dog that passes from owner to owner, us the audience dropping in on moments of their lives as said hound makes her way through the world. Thus we see Letts and Delpy’s sterile marriage (through the eyes of their son) as they sterilise the dog. Thus we see Gerwig’s wallflower come to life, much as she finds the dog a home.

Then Solondz appears to abandon his whole – admittedly loose – theme, by means of a stylised cinema intermission – and the second half of the film relocates said pooch into Danny DeVito’s world as a failed screenwriter (DeVito, not the dog, obviously), and Burstyn’s turn as a bitter grannie. By these points the director has all but abandoned his structural conceit and – it appears – any interest in the dog, reducing it to a mere prop, more than a plot point or catalyst. Almost like he’s given up on his own film…which is easy to do too at this point. Were it nor for the fact that Burstyn and DeVito’s performances are the best in the film, the latter who has one moment which is almost a masterclass in comic acting.

So, more than anything, Wiener-Dog is a hugely uneven film, bordering on being a mess at times, and one that its filmmaker does not seem particularly concerned with. It is overly arch, deadpan to the point of losing the laugh completely, and just nearly always ever so slightly off-kilter in a way you never get the sense it’s aiming for. Indeed, there are times when it hardly even seems to be aiming at all.

But certain moments – generally performance-based rather than auteur-led- do work. So not a complete write-off. But, like its lengthy dog- diarrhoea scene – well, you get the analogy…


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