Todd Solondz did with his masterpiece Happiness what so few could do. Dealing with the subject of paedophilia – amongst an array of other uncomfortable topics – he brought us one of the most inspiring independent American movie of the 1990s. Almost twenty years on, his latest movie’s protagonist is a Dachshund. This ‘wiener-dog’ provides the film’s title and is at the heart of the four chapters within. The dog goes by several names from several owners over the duration of the film. We meet the stretched out hound in four different scenarios – the silent and content onlooker to a variety of chaos. Within Wiener-Dog there are echoes of Solondz’s earlier work such as the ingenious Welcome to the Dollhouse which contains the same blatant bleakness. Wiener-Dog has been a long time coming and unfortunately the tale stops wagging within the first 30 minutes. I tried so desperately to enjoy it, after waiting so long for what I had hoped to be one of the true gems of 2016. Alas, it’s all bark and no bite. Divided into 4 clear cut quarters, you can’t help but compare Wiener-Dog to other anthology works such as the magnificent Wild Tales or the collaborative efforts of New York Stories. Sadly all four chapters of Wiener-Dog lack something – be it rhythm, humour or drama.
We’ve come to expect Solondz to punish his audience; delighting in making us squirm and wince when we least expect it. This is as true as ever in his latest on-screen outing. There was a woman in the screening I attended, who not only verbally acknowledged the animal’s adorable face each time it appeared, but at one point she was actually unable to control herself from holding up her mobile phone and snapping a quick picture of the animal. The only positive outcome of this behaviour was the fact that Wiener-Dog seemed most keen to offend her kind – those who had come for the cute little dog alone. In its dullest and most harrowing moments I could somehow take comfort in knowing that someone was more irritated, bored and confused than I. The film boasts a cool cast with the likes of Greta Gerwig, Ellen Burstyn and Girls star Zosia Mamet. Danny Devito, an actor I previously presumed to be the perfect puzzle piece to slot into Todd Solondz’s jigsaw, is wasted in the film’s dullest segment. The surprising star of the show is Kieran Culkin in the role of Brandon, a heroine addict and the continued subject of infatuation for Gerwig’s re-imagining of Dawn Wiener who fans will know from Solondz’s greatest film. Ultimately, Wiener-Dog is a mess. Disjointed and deflated, it lacks all the charisma and fury found in the director’s back catalogue.
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