A bitter bit of ruff and tumble
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