Time Out says
Todd Solondz continues his career-long plunge into the dark side of human nature with this fierce, sneakily profound tale of heavy petting.
Who would make an entire movie about man’s best friend? Not misanthropic writer-director Todd Solondz (Welcome to the Dollhouse), it turns out. Boasting a canine cast of exquisitely neurotic dachshunds—all of them bearing the same pinched expression as Jane Adams in Solondz’s Happiness—Wiener-Dog follows the trajectory of one dog traipsing into a series of domestic traps only this filmmaker could devise. As a warning to animal lovers, the title character sometimes has more in common with a tube of meat meant to be gnashed by life’s vicissitudes. But en route to the harshest, most unremittingly bleak film of his career, Solondz unleashes some of his sharpest commentary on human mortality and regret.
Ironically scored to lullabies and Debussy’s “Clair de Lune,” Wiener-Dog is subdivided into four short segments (split by a jokey animated intermission). The bookends have the toughest stuff: A delicate nine-year-old thrills to his new pet but must learn about spaying from his uptight yogacized mother (a fearless Julie Delpy) who uses racist language that wins the award for worst parenting ever. Later on, the extraordinary Ellen Burstyn, hidden behind shades and a frown, carelessly strokes her companion animal (dubbed Cancer) until she’s unexpectedly visited by a group of sweet-voiced redheaded angels who taunt her with the kinder life she could have led. It’s the scariest scene Solondz has ever done—his whole worldview distilled into one nightmarish moment of supernatural comeuppance.
Why are we watching this? It’s a question that comes up often with Solondz, and Wiener-Dog, as polished as it is (these vignettes are lensed by Carol’s Edward Lachman), won’t convince doubters. But there’s a deeper value here teased out in themes that few filmmakers, apart from Sweden’s savage Roy Andersson, would dare: the ephemerality of existence, the need to emotionally invest in these fragile four-legged totems. Ultimately, Wiener-Dog is about the phoniness of art itself. Danny DeVito plays a passé screenwriter and film-school teacher who sees his legacy becoming a joke among glib students, while elsewhere, a contemporary artist furious at comparisons to Damien Hirst turns flesh and blood into animatronic puppets. The final canvas is the pavement itself—you know it’s coming, but brace yourself.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf
Cast and crew