Sundance Film Festival: London 2016 – Wiener-Dog Review

Luke Channell reviews Wiener-Dog


A film about an adorable wiener dog tottering between owners is sure to be a heart-warming crowd-pleaser, right? Not in the hands of independent film director Todd Solondz, whose notoriously bleak, misanthropic view on humanity again manifests itself in his newest film Wiener-Dog. Already picked up by Amazon, the film tells four separate stories all interconnected by an innocent wiener dog and featuring a talented ensemble cast including Julie Delpy, Greta Gerwig, Danny DeVito and Ellen Burstyn. Solondz’s trademark blend of warped humour, deranged characters and spiky satire is certain to divide audiences once again in a film that is frequently funny but also difficult to like.

The titular wiener dog begins in the hands of Dina’s (Julie Delpy) middle-class suburban family, a favourite target of Solondz’s pitch-black satire. The film peaks early on as Dina delivers a morbid monologue on dog rape to her inquisitive son to help justify her decision to neuter the dachshund. An extended sequence that sustains a tracking shot of dog diarrhoea and is tastefully scored to Claude Debussy’s “Clair de lune” continues this mischievous dark humour.

The dog then falls into the hands of Greta Gerwig’s Dawn Wiener (a reference to the anti-heroine of Solondz’s first film Welcome to the Dollhouse) who embarks on a road-trip with former classmate Brandon (Kieran Culkin) to visit his brother and sister-in-law who both have Down’s syndrome. This segment draws fewer laughs and feels less purposeful and inspired than the other stories, although an amusing mock intermission which sees the wiener dog wandering past changing landscapes sees a welcome return to playful absurdity.

Danny DeVito’s failing film teacher is next to inherit the dog for whom it is his sole source of comfort in his miserable life. His interview with a prospective student who only answers in the most ambiguous, imprecise terms is a well-worked, humorous scene but the story meanders after this point and ultimately outstays its welcome. Last up, the dachshund falls into the ownership of a dying elderly lady (Ellen Burstyn) whose granddaughter pays her a rare visit in hope of a monetary handout. A grimly funny scene in which Burstyn’s character has a vision of all the potential paths she could have taken in life is the stand-out moment here.

Solondz’s mordant and witty tour of the American landscape expresses a depressing take on the futility of life. This relentlessly pessimistic, downbeat view of humanity becomes rather difficult to stomach, especially as there feels like a distinct lack of profundity to proceedings. It’s unlikely to become anyone’s favourite film but for those attuned with Solondz’s droll humour and perverse world view there’s a number of darkly comical isolated instances to enjoy (if that’s the right word).