Movie Review: Wiener-Dog (2016)
“This movie sucks!”
That comment was shouted in the final minutes of a screening of “Wiener-Dog” at the Egyptian Theater during the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival, and was followed by applause, a few hisses (of disagreement, I assume), and a few more shouts of “I agree!”
I was silent but smiling, since I agreed, too. But I knew the movie would suck after about five minutes. I actually suspected it going in.
I bought the tickets because of the premise: the lives of various characters as seen through the eyes of the titular dog. I thought Patricia might like that. After the purchase, I saw it was directed by Todd Solondz, the “Happiness” and “Welcome to the Dollhouse” guy. Shit. What had he done lately? Anything I’d seen? Oh yeah, “Storytelling.” Fifteen years ago.
OK, so maybe he’s changed a little? That was the hope going in.
The Black Beauty of dachshunds
“Wiener-Dog” begins with our titular hero taken from farm country in the back of a truck to an animal shelter where he’s picked up by his first improbable family: a charmless, disciplinarian older couple (playwright Tracy Letts and my bęte noire Julie Delpy), and their clueless, overly sensitive son, Remi (Keaton Nigel Cooke), whose sensitivity, in the real world, would’ve been drained from him long before by such awful, awful parents. The boy names the dog “Wiener Dog,” feeds it a granola bar, and it winds up with diarrhea. Cue 45-second tracking shot of shit on the sidewalk. Then the dog shits blood and the father takes it to the vet to have it put to sleep.
Except the vet assistant, Dawn Wiener (Patricia’s bęte noire Greta Gerwig, taking over the “Dollhouse” role from Heather Matarazzo), steals it, nurses it back to health, then gets involved in a long roadtrip with crush Brandon (Kieran Culkin). They pick up a deadpan Mexican mariachi band by the side of the freeway, who play a tune in their motel room while Brandon gets high on meth. Yay. The dog, now named Doody, winds up with Brandon’s brother, who’s mentally challenged, plays violent video games, but has a yard.
In the second half, the dog becomes the property of a struggling screenwriter/teacher, Dave Schmerz (Danny DeVito), who tries to blow up his university with explosives strapped to the dog; then he's the property of an old bitter woman (Ellen Burstyn) who names the dog “Cancer,” and who listens stoically as her granddaughter Zoe (Zosia Mamet) visits with her idiot artist/boyfriend Fantasy (Michael James Shaw) to borrow money. When Nana wakes up from a bad dream, she finds the dog missing. She calls for it, and sees it running away, across a busy road, where it’s run over by a truck. Splat. The truck keeps going. Other cars drive over the bloody mess. No one bothers to change lanes. We’re all that awful.
That’s when the guy at the Egyptian shouted “This movie sucks!”
Is it tough being Todd Solondz? What makes life worth living for him? You almost feel sorry for the dude if he didn’t subject us to his pointless, depressing vision of the world.
I should add that the woman sitting next to me at the Egyptian got Solondz's sense of humor. She laughed throughout: loud, long and slushy. Her hilarity made it worse.
Culkin and Burstyn are both good. Each give us a little touch of humanity—some glimmer of something besides the deadpan and dead awful. The rest is like that tracking shot. For 90 minutes.