In writer/director Todd Solondz’s new film Weiner-Dog, four stories are linked by one dachshund passing through.
In the first, the dog, known simply as Weiner Dog, is befriended by a little boy, who could use a pal in his uptight family situation. Later, Weiner Dog takes a road trip to the Midwest, before returning to New York and the care of a failing professor and screenwriter (Danny DeVito). In the final segment, he’s living with an elderly woman (Ellen Burstyn) who gets a visit from her granddaughter (Zosia Mamet).
While not a sequel to Solondz’s Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995), two of that film’s characters return as adults — Dawn (Greta Gerwig), a.k.a. “weiner dog,” and her former classmate, Brandon (Kieran Culkin).
It’s a work that’s tricky to characterize: It has elements of a deadpan dark comedy, but it is shot through with a certain heaviness. Few of the characters are really likable or engaging, and the episodic structure means we don’t spend much time with them. (Even the dog seems resigned to some sad fate, though dachshunds naturally have that sad-eyed, living-on-the-edge-of-dignity vibe.)
The film is purposefully jarring at times, but not without some gorgeous, almost-dream-like sequences. A feather-spewing pillow fight with a weiner dog shot in slow motion? Yes, please. Or the utterly charming and slightly surreal interstitial sequence where the weiner dog, with its determined plod and serious expression, traverses the entire United States on foot.
As disjointed as the film can feel, there’s some meatier stuff about life, death, fear and how horribly alone we all are; there is a lot of talking at cross purposes. The film generated some controversy when it screened at Sundance, and sensitive viewers should be aware: There are some disturbing scenes involving animals.
For me, it didn’t all hang together as successfully as I wanted it to, though some performances were great, and I could pretty much watch a weiner dog in anything.