We gave it a D
Twenty-one years ago, Todd Solondz became the misanthropic darling of the indie scene with his deadpan coming-of-age tale Welcome to the Dollhouse. He’s been churning out more or less the same movie ever since. At 56, the writer-director still seems interested in being an enfant terrible, but his films have lost whatever shock value they once had. They’re predictably “provocative,” which, of course, makes them not very provocative at all. In his latest anthology of cynicism, Solondz gathers a sterling cast and put them through a wringer of unhappiness.
Presented as a series of vignettes connected by one adorable chestnut-colored dachshund who gets passed around from owner to owner like a floppy-eared baton, Wiener-Dog stars Greta Gerwig as Dawn Wiener (a name that will ring a bell for Dollhouse fans), a veterinarian’s assistant who steals the dog when its brought in to be spayed by its cold-hearted owner (Julie Delpy) following a bout of explosive canine diarrhea. Gerwig’s Dawn, a bit of a lonely, lost puppy herself, takes the dog on a road trip with a disinterested bad boy (Kieran Culkin). The dog then passes hands to Danny DeVito’s sad-sack film professor who pitches screenplays with futility to his agent until he snaps. Even man’s best friends—it turns out—can’t cheer him up. Finally, the poor pup lands with Ellen Burstyn, a tough, crotchety old dame who nicknames her new pet “Cancer” (the film’s second cancer gag, which is two too many) and who’s visited by her manipulative granddaughter (Zosia Mamet) who hits her up for money.
Through it all, no cheap joke goes untapped. And the message seems to be that we are the ones who are the real beasts of burden (exasperated sigh, followed by forehead smack). It has to be said that the movie looks better than any previous Solondz film thanks to veteran cinematographer Ed Lachman. But it’s a plotless slog with one of the most childishly “outrageous” endings I’ve ever sat through. In Wiener-Dog, Solondz just keeps telling the same dark joke over and over again—and it just keeps getting less and less funny. It’s a dog. D