A bitter bit of ruff and tum­ble

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - DON­ALD CLARKE

WEINER-DOG Di­rected by Todd Solondz. Star­ring Keaton Nigel Cooke, Tracy Letts, Julie Delpy, Greta Ger­wig, Kieran Culkin, Con­nor Long, Brid­get Brown, Danny DeVito, Ellen Burstyn. Club, lim­ited re­lease, 88 min

Those who have been fol­low­ing Todd Solondz’s ex­tra­or­di­nary ca­reer have been wait­ing in wary ex­pec­ta­tion of less­en­ing mis­an­thropy. Such a shift may be ev­i­denced in the un­ex­pect­edly jaunty in­ter­mis­sion that di­vides the funny, sour Weiner-Dog.

The dachs­hund of the ti­tle (which ref­er­ences Dawn Weiner, pro­tag­o­nist of Solondz’s Wel­come to the

Doll­house) gets to stomp mer­rily across the screen while his theme song cracks the speak­ers. Todd re­ally does seem to have turned cute for just one mo­ment.

Do not fear. When set be­side the films of the av­er­age Amer­i­can film-maker this clever port­man­teau com­edy still seems much at home to pes­simism.

In the style of Robert Bres­son’s Au Hasard Balt­hazar, Weiner-Dog pro­pels its pi­lot an­i­mal through three sto­ries fo­cus­ing on char­ac­ters of ever-greater age. A young boy (Keaton Nigel Cooke), re­cently re­cov­ered from can­cer, makes friends with the dog while his par­ents sim­mer like par­ents do in Ib­sen plays. In the clos­est thing to a sunny in­ter­lude, two young peo­ple (Greta Ger­wig and Kieran Culkin) drive the an­i­mal to Ohio to re­ceive un­happy news.

Fol­low­ing the in­ter­val, the dog turns up with a mid­dleaged screen­writ­ing aca­demic (Danny DeVito) – whose pre­ten­tious stu­dents ridicule his one hit movie – at a frac­tious New York uni­ver­sity. In the fi­nal se­quence, a bitter old lady (Ellen Burstyn), per­ma­nently an­gry at her leech of a grand­daugh­ter, chris­tens the un­for­tu­nate dog “can­cer”. Take that, Mar­ley and Me.

As you might ex­pect with a Todd joint, the film ends in ut­terly ruth­less fash­ion. The dia­logue is de­liv­ered in the flat, ques­tion­ing drone that Solondz has made his own. No­body is of­fered any easy routes away from lonely an­ni­hi­la­tion. Though the mes­sage is grim, the char­ac­ters are, nonethe­less, al­lowed some mo­ments of joy among the Fear and Trem­bling.

And it’s got a doggy in it.

Keaton Nigel Cooke and dachs­hund in Weiner-Dog

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