Amazon Prime Video film review: Wiener-Dog
Matthew Turner | On 24, Jan 2017
Director: Todd Solondz
Cast: Keaton Nigel Cooke, Tracy Letts, Julie Delpy, Greta Gerwig, Kieran Culkin
Watch Wiener-Dog online in the UK: Amazon Prime / Apple TV (iTunes) / TalkTalk TV / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
Dog-lovers, be warned: Although the variously-named Dachshund protagonist of Wiener-Dog is undeniably cute, it won’t pay to get too attached to him, and, well, let’s just say that writer-director Todd Solondz doesn’t have your best interests at heart. For his eighth feature, Solondz has crafted a four-segment portmanteau that amply showcases his deliciously dark humour and his relentlessly bleak outlook on life in his own unique style, although it’s hampered by an uneven tone and a nagging feeling of missed opportunities.
The film begins with a wealthy father (Letts) bringing home cute Dachshund Wiener-Dog for his nine year-old cancer-survivor son, Remi (Nigel Cooke), much to the irritation of his Remy’s mother (Delpy), who convinces her son to have the dog spayed, by telling a horror story about how her own childhood dog died agonisingly in childbirth after being raped by a dog named Muhammed. After a traumatic diarrhoea incident, Wiener-Dog finds himself in the hands of vet assistant Dawn Wiener (the grown-up protagonist of Solondz’s breakout film, Welcome to the Dollhouse, now played by Greta Gerwig), who takes him on an impromptu road trip with old classmate Brandon (Culkin), after a chance meeting in a grocery store.
We don’t see how the dog changes hands again, but his next owner is depressed screenwriter-turned-film-professor Dave Schmerz (Danny DeVito), who’s growing increasingly disgruntled with both students and faculty members. Finally, Wiener-Dog ends up in the hands of embittered old lady Nana (Ellen Burstyn), whose grand-daughter (Zosia Mamet) shows up to deliver a long, rambling hard-luck story, before hitting her up for money.
The four segments are something of a mixed bag. The first is undoubtedly the best, thanks to Keaton Nigel Cooke’s charming performance as flute-playing Remi and Delpy’s winningly cheerful delivery of Solondz’s misery-laden dialogue, as Remi tries to relate to life through asking questions about the dog. This segment is also notable for a splendidly provocative sequence where the camera tracks along a long line of utterly disgusting-looking dog diarrhoea, while Claire de Lune plays on the soundtrack.
Similarly, the final segment is nicely handled, with Burstyn on top form as misanthropic Nana (she names Wiener-Dog “Cancer”), particularly during an inspired dream sequence, where she’s confronted with all the (identical-looking) versions of the person she could have been if certain circumstances were different (“This is who you could have been if you’d left bigger tips”, etc).
Unfortunately, neither the Gerwig nor the DeVito segment ever really spark to life, and both feel like severely missed opportunities – the former does nothing interesting with perhaps Solondz’s best-loved character, while the latter, although clearly drawn from Solondz’s own experience, blunts its satire and fails to properly stick the knife into either academia, screenwriting or Hollywood.
That said, there’s still plenty to enjoy and there are a number of off-the-wall highlights, whether it’s Dawn and Brandon picking up a trio of miserable Mariachi hitch-hikers or a delightful musical interlude featuring Wiener-Dog trekking through various landscapes, Littlest-Hobo-style, while catchy original song The Ballad of Wiener-Dog (by South Park composer Marc Shaiman) plays on the soundtrack. If there’s any justice, that song will be a shoo-in for the Best Original Song Oscar in 2017.
Despite some frustratingly lazy scripting and an uneven tone, Wiener-Dog is an engaging and darkly funny piece of work that’s well worth checking out, particularly if you’re a fan of Solondz’s previous films.
Wiener-Dog is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.
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Photos: Courtesy of Sundance Institute