“Wiener-Dog” Yes. Humans, No Thanks
By Skip Sheffield
“Wiener-Dog” is one head-scratcher of a movie. You might think it’s a story about those long, low, lovable dogs called dachshunds, but it’s not really. It’s about people. Screwed-up people.
For his eighth film writer-director Todd Solondz, whose earlier works include “Welcome to the Doll House” and “Happiness,” has delivered another work guaranteed not to leave you feeling warm and fuzzy.
The movie has four parts, related only by the winsome dachshund of the title. She is sprung from her cage at animal control by Danny (Tracy Letts), a self-absorbed suburban dad, who thinks the dog might cheer his 9-year-old son Remi (Keaton Nigel Cooke), a cancer survivor. Danny’s wife Dina (Julie Delpy) has a list of objections.
“Who will walk it? Who will clean up after it? “Do you know what spay means?” Danny thinks the dog needs “control,” which means stern discipline.
Remi does know about spaying, but the poor dog does not. She is spayed at mom’s insistence, then the parents go away and the dog gets into mischief, including pigging out on granola, which leads to an epic case of diarrhea, complete with the song “The Ballad of Wiener Dog” by Marc Shaiman of “South Park.”
Danny sadly takes the dog back to the pound, presumably to be euthanized, but a kindly veterinarian nurse, Dawn Wiener (Greta Gerwig) takes her home. Dawn embarks on a cross-country trip with her sleazy boyfriend (Kieran Culkin) and somehow the dog gets passed off to a couple with Down’s Syndrome.
There is an amusing quite literal Intermission, even though the film is only 90 minutes long, and then the story gets really dark. Dave Schmertz (Danny DeVito) is a would-be screenwriter and part-time college teacher whose life and career are unraveling. He is mocked by a young film student and his latest screenplay is rejected. Just when we think things couldn’t get worse, we meet Nana (Ellen Burstyn), an embittered grandmother who hides behind huge dark sun glasses. Her granddaughter (Zosia Mamet) has come to hit her up for money once again for her no-account artist-boyfriend (Michael Shaw). Nana begins hallucinating and seeing multiple red-haired girls.
Spoiler alert: If you think this is heading for a happy ending, think again. Weiner-Dog, the only noble, blameless character in this bitter story, is unceremoniously dispatched. We are left thinking life just isn’t fair. Maybe that is Todd Solondz’s point.