WIENER-DOG (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 28 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language and some Disturbing Content

Directed by: Todd Solondz

Written by: Todd Solondz

Starring: Keaton Nigel Cooke, Tracy Letts, Julie Delpy, Greta Gerwig, Kieran Culkin, Danny DeVito, Sharon Washington, Trey Silver, Ari Graynor, Ellen Burstyn, Zosia Mamet & Michael Shaw

Todd Solondz is a director who’s become known for mixing bleaker-than-bleak comedy with oddball drama. From the two films in Solondz’s filmography that I’ve seen so far, he seems to be hit-or-miss with me. WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE was overrated-but-okay and sitting through the ironically titled HAPPINESS was a hilariously twisted experience. Solondz’s latest film is the anthology WIENER-DOG which follows one Dachshund as it passes through the hands of many owners (each owner serving as a segment in the film). This anthology is a bit all-over-the-place in quality, so I’ll tackle the positives and negatives segment-by-segment…

First Owner: The first owners of the titular wiener-dog are a family of three. Danny (Tracy Letts) and Dina (Julia Delpy) bicker over whether or not the family is ready to have a pet, while their child Remi (Keaton Nigel Cooke) takes an instant liking to the hound. This segment perfectly mixed heartwarming drama with tough life lessons and horribly dark laughs. Delpy’s character’s dialogues are hilarious as she provides detailed explanations to her son’s innocent questions, shattering any semblance of his childhood innocence in the process. This entire first segment had me grinning from ear to ear, frequently laughing, and feeling sad when it arrived at its inevitable conclusion. The first story is WIENER-DOG’s highest peak. A

Second Owner: WIENER-DOG’s second segment serves as a sequel to the aforementioned WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE. It follows veterinarian Dawn (now played by Greta Gerwig) as she reunites with her troubled teenage love-interest Brandon (now played by Kieran Culkin). The two proceed to take a trip to Ohio for reasons that soon become clear. This second segment is more dramatic than any other story in WIENER-DOG, so much so that it forgets to include any big laughs. I wasn’t a giant fan of WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE anyway, but fans of that film might find something to enjoy here. There is a touching conversation near the conclusion of this segment that contains great acting and surprisingly unexpected emotions. This is the worst segment of the film, but it does have that one powerful moment. C

Third Owner: Wiener-dog’s newest owner is deeply depressed college professor Dan Schmerz (Danny DeVito). Dan is a ticking time bomb, refusing to exercise and eat healthy…despite life-threatening health conditions. In a last ditch effort to sell a screenplay before he kicks the bucket, Dan has to make compromises and this leads him down a dark path. This segment was a depressing slice-of-life drama with occasional laughs. Though the first segment is still the highest point of the film, Danny DeVito shines in giving WIENER-DOG’s best performance. The story’s final moments also contain one of the biggest shock laughs of the movie too. I wish it had run five minutes longer (giving some much-needed closure), but this is the second-best segment of the film! B+

Fourth Owner: The fourth and final segment of the film has elderly Nana (Ellen Burstyn) as the dog’s latest owner. A visit from Nana’s aspiring actress granddaughter Zoe (Zosia Mamet) and her pimped-out “artist” boyfriend Fantasy (Michael Shaw) takes a dramatic turn as revelations come to light. This segment seems unfinished in that it focuses on two different story arcs (Zoe’s troubled life and Nana’s regrets), but doesn’t devote nearly enough time to either of them. There are some laughs to be had and a long set-piece that is sure to upset animal lovers/pet owners (myself included). Still, Solondz manages to evoke good laughs, solid acting, and a couple of dramatic moments…even if this segment feels incomplete. B-

Overall, WIENER-DOG is a rollercoaster ride in its quality. It starts at its highest point and then drops to its lowest point, only to come back to another high and then end on an okay note. The film contains dramatic moments, a handful of great performances, sick laughs, and truly strange bits (a trippy Intermission sequence hit me upside the head). The movie has gaps in its continuity as we don’t see how the final two owners acquire the titular wiener-dog and our minds have to fill in the blanks. In spite of its problems, there are enough positive qualities to make WIENER-DOG worth a recommendation. Just know that you’re walking into a Solondz film and expect disturbing content.

Grade: B