Without fail, most Wiener-Dog reviews will start the same way: “How do you even begin to write about a Todd Solondz movie?” Yes, Solondz’s morose, glib sense of humor does present a stranger take on dramatic storytelling, but one question reigns supreme – does it work? You can be quirky, ambitious, and off-color for days, yet if execution falters, then all your absurdity is for nothing.
Solondz’s bleakest endeavor follows four different characters who all encounter an adorable Dachshund while they deal with life’s biggest questions. Young Remi’s (Keaton Nigel Cooke) curiosity is met with harsh answers, Dawn (Greta Gerwig) takes a roadtrip with an old crush, screenwriting instructor Dave Schmerz (Danny DeVito) tries to find passion once again, and Nana (Ellen Burstyn) deals with the mistakes of her past. Life might be getting them down, but they’ve always got their wiener to play with when things seem at their worst! So they fight on, waging war against depressing realizations, until there’s no fight left – because isn’t that what life’s about?
Well according to Solondz, there’s nothing worth fighting for. Life consists of stages that we’ll utterly waste, eventually ending in regrets, “What If?” questions, and time spent making all the wrong choices. It’s very post-college-grad angsty, fighting through torturous crises without any “dark humor” to go around. Whether it be Wiener-Dog‘s egregious Boyhood ripoff opening shot, or a predictably morose closing fate, Solondz never once stops to smell the roses. Depression and inevitability make for a strangely brutal cinematic wasteland, never to be saved by the chocolate-colored canine showcased on Wiener-Dog‘s poster.
While we’re talking about “Wiener-Dog” – or “Doodie,” or whatever else our four-legged hero is called – can we address how Solondz gives up on a linear passage of the dog from owner to owner? Remi hands-off his dog to Dawn, but then a random green-screen “Intermission” cuts the film in half as we jump right into Dave’s overlong bore, followed randomly by Nana’s crisis of finality. Wiener-Dog bills itself as an emotional journey told through a dog’s perspective, yet the weenie actually plays a minimal role in the lives of its human overlords.
Tragically, we’re subjected to scene after scene of people wasting their potential, and being kicked in the dick by life’s unfair bias – Wiener-Dog doesn’t add or subtract anything of value. Without a four-legged hook, Solondz’s characters are just hopeless souls struggling with the same crushing weight of a billion under-appreciated characters before. Nothing new.
Solondz’s best material comes during Dave Schmerz’s existentialist dilemma, but not the whole abusive-Hollywood-agent angle. Schmerz – a struggling screenwriter trying to impart his love of screenwriting upon eager students – unlocks this angry, aggressive satire of Hollywood bullshit, and a lazy attitude toward talent. Between a guest director telling listeners that schooling means nothing, to an applicant interview that proves how filmmakers today have nothing to say, Solondz’s attitude brilliantly skewers blockbuster mentalities – albeit a brief, shining light that burns out during Schmerz’s voiceless search for meaning.
Elsewhere – aka EVERYWHERE else – Wiener-Dog is boorishly cantankerous, and frustratingly over-characterized. Greta Gerwig is at her, like, totally Greta Gerwig-iest, there’s a super long take of a dog’s diarrhea trail, and a boy is told that there’s no such thing as God (disenchanting youth at a young age). As the weenie marches forward, it’s the same exasperating story about frivolity, be it a drug addict’s inability to embrace love and quit, or Dawn’s wasteful decision to follow said druggies. In short, our decisions will haunt us until God (or whatever entity you believe in) ruthlessly snuffs us out. That’s it.
Coming from a self-admitted cynic, Wiener-Dog fails to execute pitch-black humor on a plane that equally addresses human fears that manifest over time. There’s never any necessary explanation for the fantastical quirkiness Solondz employs, much like how the titular wiener dog finds himself severely underused. While I have no doubt that Todd Solondz made the film he intended to, do we really need yet another reminder that life is one cruel sonofabitch? Just focus on the wiener and hopefully everything will be OK.
Just kidding, it won’t be.
Wiener-Dog is a bleak, pitch-black comedy that forgets to be cynically charming or morbidly funny, because apparently we needed one more kick in the nuts from life?