In a string of assumedly significant metaphors, Solondz’ latest film has its shining moments, but ultimately falls short of leaving any resonating message about purpose, meaning, or the hardship we call life.
Through a series of four different homes, a wiener dog travels through the ups and downs of being transitioned from place to place, catching short glimpses of the struggles each family or individual is facing and quite often suffers herself as a result of those struggles. It can be hard to tell which of these is happening and when in this relatively short feature.
A father brings the dog home to his son, Remi (Keaton Nigel Cooke), in the first part of the series—a curious, questioning boy and a cancer survivor, who lovingly names her “Wiener-Dog.” In an overstated but seemingly fitting homage to the French film Zero for Conduct, Remi and Wiener-Dog end up spending one day together jumping on couches, tearing pillows to shreds, slow-motion feathers falling from the heavens in unadulterated bliss. Their freedom from parental supervision quickly turns sour when Remi feeds her a granola bar and his parents come home to a very unpleasant after-effect on their hardwood floors. What follows is an excruciatingly long view of Wiener-Dog’s diarrhea in an expansive part of the concrete outside the house; and while it seems Solondz is attempting to translate the dog’s defecation/sickness into a statement about how good intentions still end up in misery, the scene borders on the excessive rather than the impactful.
This beginning sets the scene for a trail of subsequent homes, including, Dawn (Greta Gerwig), a veterinary assistant who rescues her from being put down and nurses her back to health. Her role in the dog’s life ends quickly in an impulsive decision to pass the pup onto her new flame’s brother.
We reach “intermission” after these two sections of the series; as a whole they are difficult to digest because the sole reason they’re held together in the first place is because of the wiener dog. Sympathy for the dog and her inability to plant roots with a loving family are prevalent, but if we’re supposed to be gaining insight from the other characters it just isn’t visible. Due to this fact, it seems almost jarring when the next part of the series takes place—a snippet of the film that outshines every other moment with a very present Danny DeVito as Dave Schmerz, an out-of-luck screenwriting teacher. This is a story of substance, a full-circle view into the sad, lonely life of Schmerz and the wiener dog’s role in his despair. Yet this is also the first time Solondz’s dark humor really lands on its feet especially in a passionate speech by DeVito about how “everyone loves a little shtick.” After all…everyone DOES love a little shtick.
In its entirety, Wiener-Dog still doesn’t meet expectations, even in the 20-minute slog that follows Dave Schmerz’s unexpectedly satisfying story. As much as I found myself vying to reach some sort of conclusion about Solondz’s inferences on life and death and more death, it was more so a lesson in unending anguish that flounders in making any real social remark about why we suffer. The film feels like an incomplete thought, and despite its four act structure, the film only showcases insignificant moments in time, that do an injustice to the poor wiener dog and the pain inflicted upon her life as well. | Kristen Weber