Dir: Todd Solondz
I've found myself somewhat predisposed to Todd Solondz's films, or at least I thought so until 2016's Wiener-Dog came along. Without wanting to sound like I liked it before it was cool, I have had many heated discussions defending his 1998 film Happiness and explaining why I thought 2004's Palindromes was a positive alternative to mainstream movies at that time. Both are now regarded as classics but they really weren't at the time believe me. In many respects, I thought Solondz had made his case and moved on with regards to the themes of rape, molestation and general abuse in Middle America, I didn't think he was done exploring the dark underbelly of American suburbia but I thought he'd started looking at it from another angle, like he did in 2012's Dark Horse. Dark Horse was well received, made a profit but was largely forgotten and wasn't really discussed. I can't help but think the lack of controversy that Solondz was so used to has had something of an effect on him. He remarked at the time about how the Creative Artists Agency appreciated his script (the first time for any of his films) and later realized it was because "there's no rape, there's no child molestation, there's no masturbation, and I thought, omg, why didn't I think of this years ago?".
I felt no progression with Wiener-Dog, he was clearly repeating himself and covering old ground. One of the sequences was even a continuation of one of his previous films (Storytelling), which would have been a lot nicer for fans, had the original actors returned to play their older selves. The film is really a collection of short stories, all joined by one little dog, the Wiener-Dog (a dachshund, also known as a Sausage dog) of the title, who befriends different owners after either being given away, running away, kidnapped or re-homed. It is like the darkest episode of The Littlest Hobo, the one that never made it to TV, written on the day the scriptwriters lost their jobs or something. None of the stories really go anywhere, there really isn't much to them. The long pauses that I used to love in Solondz's film just don't seem to work here, it is as if everyone is consciously trying to be as 'Solondz' as they possibly can, making much of the film seem forced in a way. As much as I appreciate his on-going contempt of contemporary 'art house' films, I feel he is guilty of a lot of which he clearly detests. I'm not sure what this film is for and more importantly, who this film is for. The last sequence is fantastically droll in the way it lifts the film, to then drop it further down the subdued and banal hole it has been lurking in the whole time. At least cinematographer Ed Lachman got to stretch his creative legs for few seconds but I'm not sure why you'd hire such a genius and then give him nothing to do. I hated the ending, even though it is the sort of ending I should have loved. There are only so many of the same magic shows you can watch before you want to see a new trick and I wanted to saw myself in half after watching it. The cast is great; Ellen Burstyn, Kieran Culkin, Julie Delpy, Danny DeVito, Greta Gerwig, Tracy Letts and Zosia Mamet are all fine with what they are given, with maybe Delpy, Burstyn and Mamet doing a better job than everyone else. It's fine if you want more of the same, and I do sort of, but there has to be something new, otherwise Solondz is going to start parodying himself and in Wiener-Dog he becomes dangerously close.