Sundance’s official summary of the film reads: “Wiener-Dog tells several stories featuring a person who find their life inspired or changed by one particular dachshund, who seems to be spreading a certain kind of comfort and joy.”
So, a dachshund finds itself shuffled from one oddball owner to the next in each of the four unrelated vignettes that make up the film, although whether the unfortunate creature is spreading any kind of comfort and joy remains highly questionable.
Opening the first of these short films, Julie Delpy plays Dina, the loving but oddly acerbic mother of a young boy recovering from cancer. Her husband surprises the family by adopting the dachshund, which the child names Wiener-Dog, but the dog’s relationship with the family apart from the boy, fares far from well and she ends up in a veterinary surgery, seriously ill.
Rather than see the poor dog put to sleep, Dawn Wiener, a timid veterinary assistant (Greta Gerwig) takes her home and nurses her back to health. Following a series of events, Dawn meets a boy from her high school whom she had a crush on (Kieran Culkin) and makes a spur of the moment decision to embark on a strange road trip.
How the dog ends up with a film professor (Danny DeVito) at his wit’s end with his insipid colleagues and cynical students we never find out, but this sequence lets director Solondz, (who so far has stuck firmly to his independent roots) tear into Hollywood’s vacuous and venal nature.
Wiener-Dog’ s closing chapter focuses on Nana, an embittered elderly woman (Ellen Burstyn) and her forbearing reaction when her estranged granddaughter (Zosia Mamet) shows up unannounced with an unsuitable boyfriend in tow. At the end of this sequence is a scene during which Nana dreams of how her life could have been better had she chosen various different paths. It is the movie’s most interesting highlight, mordantly funny, but also sadly poignant.
Todd Solondz most memorably divisive film Happiness attempted to find grim humour from a storyline largely centred on the activities of a paedophile. It was so controversial that in 1998, although known for screening edgy films, the Sundance film festival flat out refused to show it due to its content. Weiner-Dog may be less controversial, but is no less caustic.
Don’t expect a happy ending.
WIENER-DOG IS OUT 12th AUGUST