Wiener-Dog

 

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Here we have four tales from a unique voice - but the results are mixed.

 
Wiener-Dog

Danny DeVito

 

Anyone who is simply told that this is a four-part movie in which distinct segments follow the life of a dog with a series of owners will probably think that they know what to expect - and even more so if they learn that the film features a song entitled 'The Balled of Wiener-Dog'. But Wiener-Dog was written and directed by Todd Solondz and, if that is known, anybody aware of his previous work will have expectations of a very different order. And rightly so, the first two tales in particular proving to be balanced precariously between the comic and the serious in a mode that is pure Solondz. If the second half, following a brief tongue-in-cheek intermission that includes the song, is less sure-footed, fans of this idiosyncratic filmmaker will nevertheless find much to enjoy here and will also see Greta Gerwig at her very best.

 

The first tale is the one that most strongly features the dog, an able performer. It shows a father (Tracy Letts) acquiring the dog from a pound and giving it to his 9-year-old son, Remi, played by the excellent Keaton Nigel Cooke despite disapproval from mother (Julie Delpy also on good form). The insensitivity of the parents to the honest outlook and concern of their child is both comic and alarming and the film offers a distinct link to the second tale. This is the one which features Gerwig, taking over the role of Dawn Wiener last seen in Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995). She has become the dog's new owner but central here is the loneliness that sees her linking up with Brandon (Kieran Culkin), an acquaintance from her schooldays whose character initially suggests somebody better avoided. But, as the tale continues bringing in both Mexican immigrants and Brandon's brother, there are surprises ahead. Once again humour is conjoined with something else, here a real sense of life's sadness.

 

After the intermission we find that the dog has passed to a scriptwriter in movies (Danny DeVito) and his world is one in which insincerity is rampant, starting with the comments that he gets from his agent. But this tale's climax seems forced and inappropriate and the final section, a study of a family lacking in warmth and centred on the elderly Nana (Ellen Burstyn), although in keeping with the film's contrasted moods, ultimately enters into the sphere of dream-like fantasy without quite carrying us with it. However, there's still a climactic scene and a coda to come and, despite its weaker elements, Wiener-Dog at its best will give real pleasure to those who cherish Solondz's individual voice.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Ellen Burstyn, Kieran Culkin, Julie Delpy, Danny DeVito, Greta Gerwig, Tracy Letts, Keaton Nigel Cooke, Zosia Mamet, Connor Long, Bridget Brown, Ari Graynor.

 

Dir Todd Solondz, Pro Megan Ellison and Christine Vachon, Screenplay Todd Solondz, Ph Ed Lachman, Pro Des Akin McKenzie, Ed Kevin Messman, Music Nathan Larson and James Lavino, Costumes Amela Baksic.

 

Amazon Studios/Annapurna Pictures/a Killer Films production.-Picturehouse Entertainment.
88 mins. USA. 2015. Rel: 12 August 2016. Cert. 15.