Wiener-Dog – Review (*** 1/2)

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It would be so easy for Todd Solondz’s unique brand of achingly humanistic nihilism to feel arch and predictable after chipping away in the industry for almost three decades, and yet, so is not the case. Wiener-Dog, if beholden to the usual anthology film flaws, nevertheless proves the continued potency of one of cinema’s most distinctive voices.

A quartet of short films all connected by the fleeting ownership of a cute sausage dog, Wiener-Dog muses on life, death, disappointment, filmmaking, rape and so much more inside of its tidy 88-minute run-time, in turn mining a deep sense of humanity out of its forlorn subjects even if it’s undeniably not a good time at the movies.

The stories do vary somewhat in quality as they tend to in formats such as this; the opening tale (in which a boy bonds with his new pet only to learn some harsh life lessons at an age nobody should ever have to) and the closer (an old lady, played by Ellen Burstyn, receives the dog and promptly names him “Cancer”) are easily highlights, while the Greta Gerwig and Danny DeVito mid-sections aren’t quite as bracingly effective.

Still, there’s nothing here that would qualify as less-than-average, and the overall effect manages to be both shocking and meaningful. Hardly attempting to stoke outrage for its own sake, this feels like Solondz desperately reaching out to the alienated weirdos, the great discomforted and attempting to connect in the great human experiment known as life. That may be the great, democratic nobility of filmmaking afterall.

While it absolutely doesn’t reach the beautifully dark highs of, say, Happiness, Wiener-Dog is a much smaller chamber piece in terms of thematic canvas and cast size, so that’s none-too-surprising. If the link between canine and human doesn’t always feel as strong as it could to provoke a more compelling metaphor, the four stories themselves are still transfixing enough that this is barely an issue to speak of.

It naturally won’t be to all tastes, but Solondz acolytes can’t afford to miss it.

*** 1/2

Wiener-Dog is available on VOD and in select cinemas now

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