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Wiener Dog – first look

Todd Solondz’s typically bleak ensemble piece serves up a fresh ingredient for an otherwise familiarly grim trek across America.

Unashamedly sticking it to Hollywood even in middle age, Todd Solondz, the enfant terrible of US indie cinema, returns with this outrageously dark and witty take on the futility of modern life.

With a blatant nod to his breakout Sundance hit, 1995’s Welcome to the Dollhouse, the title refers to that film’s anti-heroine, Dawn Wiener. It is entirely appropriate, then, that Ms Wiener be resurrected in the form of indie favourite Greta Gerwig, sporting similarly oversized glasses and a forlorn hunch that matches her overly sensitive nature. Wiener, the woman, is a nurse whose concern for her charge isn’t matched by her no-good, similarly grown-up boyfriend (Kieran Culkin).

The dachshund itself begins and ends its on-screen life staring out vacantly from a box. In-between, it must navigate a path through a series of deranged characters, peaking early on with a wonderfully outrageous Julie Delpy, delivering an abhorrent monologue on dog rape and the need for euthanasia. A drawn-out sequence involving dog diarrhoea – scored to the sweet classical sounds of Debussy – adds to the gallows humour that escalates as we head towards the inevitably gut-wrenching finale on a Los Angeles freeway.

Each chapter presents the dachshund with a different master (or mistress), in a seemingly altered environment. There’s a failed screenwriter (Danny DeVito) leaning on Wiener for comfort and companionship. Later, an irascible octogenarian (Ellen Burstyn), faced with a drug-taking granddaughter on the prowl for another handout, momentarily has a fantastical dream unlike anything Solondz has attempted on screen. In the process, she takes her eye off the precious beast, who curiously grows more passive as its apparently directionless journey nears its conclusion. What happens to it will make even the most ardent of Solondz fans grimace in horror.

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