Todd Solondz is a director known for shocking storytelling (Happiness), painful analysis of life in America (Welcome to the Dollhouse), and at times, complete flops (Dark Horse). Wiener-Dog proves to combine all three elements without flopping as hard as some of his previous films.
Weiner-Dog follows a dog who enters into four different lives. While the dog is the tool that brings viewers into the lives, he plays a minor character, or so it seems, until the final scene. As with any storied film, some sections are stronger than others but each section contains characters struggling to find happiness and beaten down by the mundane tasks of their lives.
The wiener-dog begins first moves in with an uptight family. They have a sterile, sleek home and talk to their son as from a parenting textbook instead of from their hearts. We understand that the son is recovering some physical illness and they decide to allow him to adopt the dog. Tracy Letts plays the father. His performance is bombastic and cartoon like. He is a man who wants things a certain way and he manipulates his surroundings to keep things as such. The mother is played by Julie Delphy. She gives one of the best performances in the film. She eerily chirps at her son, deftly side-stepping any deep conversation in that way that suburban moms in America do. After the dog has a grotesque bathroom accident, they bring him to the vet to be euthanized.
I will not go into as much detail on the other sections of the film as doing so would relinquish the films only charm, its unpredictability. Lets just say that the dog is not in fact euthanized.
The sets are among some of the most realistic I’ve seen in “real America.” From Gerta Gerwig‘s working class apartment, to Ellen Burstyn‘s crumbling home they look like real places with clutter and imperfections. We feel Burstyn’s pain, watching her home erode because it actually looks like an eroding home. When her home was built it was regal and isolated, and now it is deteriorating and highways and roads are surrounding it. The modern world is literally caving in on her.
One of the most powerful and touching performances is by Danny DeVito. He plays a washed up film director who is becoming a washed up film professor. There’s a long shot of his face while on the phone in which he emits such pain and longing, it alone could be the trailer for this film.
For viewers of art films, for people who liked to be challenged with questions like, “what does the dog represents?” this is a great film. For the average film goer, it’s a skip.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Director: Todd Solondz
Writer: Todd Solondz
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Tracy Letts, Julie Delpy, Kieran Culkin, Danny DeVito, Ellen Burstyn
Runtime: 89 minutes
Release Date: June 24, 2016 (later in Houston)
MPAA rating: R