Odd ‘Wiener-Dog’ strangely engrossing

March 30, 2018

“Wiener-Dog” isn’t so much a cohesive movie as a collection of four disjointed shorts. Divided into two groups of two by a jaunty musical intermission, the segments are connected by a worried-looking brown dachshund that shows up in every story. Tone is the other constant: a sardonic sense of melancholy you’d find in any movie by writer-director Todd Solondz (“Happiness”).

Wiener-Dog” opens with a man offloading the title character at an animal shelter. Finding itself inside a small crate alongside the pens of other castaways, the dog paces aimlessly. Around and around it goes, and the camera doesn’t budge.

That’s another hallmark of Solondz: forcing the viewer to linger well beyond what’s expected or what’s even comfortable, holding focus, for example, on a young boy staring at the sky while lying in his backyard. The fact that the kid doesn’t blink gives the disconcerting impression that he may not, in fact, be breathing.

Not to worry: His name is Remi (Keaton Nigel Cooke) and he becomes the new owner of Wiener-Dog, a surprise gift from his father (Tracy Letts). Remi is instantly smitten. His mother (Julie Delpy) is less enthused.

“Now who’s going to walk it?” she spits at her husband. She’s more patient with her son, even though he’s prone to interrogations, asking questions about everything from canine reproductive urges to faith.

“What does it feel like to be put to sleep?” he asks, after learning about dog euthanasia. “It feels good!” his mother says, cheerily. “Like forgetting everything.” Upon hearing that his family doesn’t believe in God, Remi wonders what they do believe in. “Truth, compassion, love,” his mother responds angelically, without even a hint of irony.

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