Director Todd Solondz’ latest effort is a curious affair, to say the least. From the man that brought us the darker than dark (yet quite wonderful), Happiness, ‘curious’ was probably always going to be on the cards.
Wiener-Dog tells a series of short tales, all of which are loosely linked together not just by their overriding air of melancholy, uneasiness and pitch-black comedy, but more to the point, by a canine common denominator; one small Dachschund sausage dog (or Wiener-Dog to our American cousins).
Rather than possessing any wayward ‘Littlest Hobo’ genes that might cause our low-slung friend to develop itchy feet, up sticks on a whim, and head for that place that keeps on calling him, Wiener-Dog’s geographic movements and general fate in life is very much determined through desperately poor choices on the part of a collection of rather dysfunctional people, all of whom, with no particular malice intended I’m sure, seem determined to do the wrong thing by him; often placing him in the most awkward of situations and all too frequently, at death’s door.
A previously gravely-sick child is bought the little dog as a feel-good gift by his well-meaning father (Tracy Letts), much to the mother’s chagrin (Julie Delpy). When Wiener-Dog himself gets ill though, and causes ructions in the family unit, as quick as a flash he finds himself on the vet’s table, and only the intervention of the vet’s kindly assistant (Greta Gerwig), saves him from a long old sleep.
Thus begins another chapter in Wiener-Dog’s chequered and very troubled life which will eventually lead his new owner to present him as a gift to a Down’s syndrome couple, who are clearly smitten by the little fella.
Put upon and seriously depressed university lecturer (Danny DeVito), is next in line to take on this high-maintenance hoodoo, but once DeVito’s number is up, it’s a cantankerous old lady’s abode which proves to be Wiener-Dog’s last port of call. A faithful sidekick and companion to share an existence thoroughly bereft of ebullience, with a lady whose joi-de-vivre clearly ‘went west’ many moons ago, seems a somehow fitting way for the hapless hound to see out his remaining days.
Wiener-dog’s passage from owner to owner is at times logically linked, and at other times it’s unclear, and left to the viewer’s imagination. What is clear though is that a trail of unhappiness and misfortune – both for him and his surrogate owners – seems to follow Wiener-Dog around like a bad smell.
From terrible parenting, to ill-advised, selfish and depression-induced decision making on the part of pretty much all involved, Todd Solondz injects his film with chucklesome moments a plenty, often delighting in drawing out the macabre and the deeply inappropriate, whether it be attempting to use Wiener-Dog as an explosive device, or revelling in a seemingly never-ending tracking shot of a trail of doggy diarrhoea, to the haunting strains of Claude Debussy.
For such moments alone, Wiener-Dog does enough to intrigue and compel and makes Solondz’ curious piece well worth a watch. That said, if truth be told, it’s a film that doesn’t necessarily hang together particularly well as a whole, leaving a few too many questions unanswered, and lacking a true coherence of narrative.
For all of its quirkiness and attempts to quietly shock and appall by venturing into the forbidden and by tackling taboos, Wiener-Dog is a fairly patchy affair, but as with any Solondz offering, it’s one that’s worth your time.