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Wiener-Dog: Todd Solondz continues to look critically at American life

Written and directed by Todd Solondz

Wiener-Dog is the latest film from American director Todd Solondz. This is the seventh feature, excluding one early film, that Solondz (born 1959) has directed since 1995. He has concentrated on depicting middle-class American life.

In the face of increasing social chaos and, in the past 15 years, the endless “war on terror,” his characters have often both insisted on maintaining the pretense of suburban normality and inflicted punishment, for the most part unwittingly, on those who deviated from conventional behavior. The occasionally extreme forms of the deviations (pedophilia, child molestation, rape, suicide, etc.) seem related proportionately to the feverish efforts to police normalcy.

At his best, Solondz demonstrates unusual clear-sightedness and compassion. In 1996, writing about his Welcome to the Dollhouse, which centered on the mostly unfortunate Dawn Wiener (Heather Matarazzo) navigating pre-adolescence in the suburbs of New Jersey, we noted that “The film’s strengths include its steady, unsentimental gaze, its obvious concern for the fate of its characters, its critical treatment of a variety of institutions.” He has also demonstrated a sharp satirical talent, often directed against the self-absorption and self-involvement of certain social types. Ally Sheedy’s supremely narcissistic Hollywood screenwriter in Life During Wartime (2009) is only the most devastating example.

At their weakest, his films descend into mockery and condescension toward his often hapless characters and needlessly sensationalize their taboo activities. In 2002, we asked how it was “possible that an artist of some intelligence and sensitivity should be so inconsistent in his attitude toward his own creations and beyond them, his fellow creatures.” The ultimate answer lies in the political stagnation and the various pressures the difficult social and cultural climate has exerted on the filmmaker. He alternately rushes to the side of his characters or leaves them cruelly to their fate.

The new film comprises four stories, loosely linked by the presence of a “wiener-dog” (dachshund). Each has at least one or more satirical, telling moments or elements. The most forceful and welcome derision, contained in the final two sections, is reserved for New York City’s art and academic world.

In the first part of Wiener-Dog, Danny (Tracy Letts), a wealthy suburbanite, brings home a female dachshund as a present for his cancer-survivor son, Remy (Keaton Nigel Cooke), much to the chagrin of his wife, Dina (Julie Delpy). Remy, we presume, has not had an easy time of it, both on account of his illness and his severe, hard-to-please parents.

Anger is Danny’s customary emotional state (“Heel, motherf—-r!,” he vainly commands the small dog). When Dina is not putting a happy face on things (for an animal, she tells Remy, getting spayed is “like going to the dentist”), she is lying to her son and trying to terrorize him (at one point she obviously makes up a story about a pet dog she had as a child in France who was “raped” by a stray named “Mohammed”!).

A great deal is summed up by the sight of Danny and Dina, with rolled up yoga mats under their arms, jumping into their Mercedes convertible and roaring off to class. “They’re gone,” yelps Remy, and he and the dog have a grand time. The unfortunate consequences lead the parents to hand the animal over to the veterinarian for euthanasia. Remy asks his mother, “What is it like to be put to sleep?” She replies, typically, “It’s good … it’s forgetting about everything.”

An employee at the vet’s, Dawn Wiener (this time around played by Greta Gerwig), however, intervenes and takes the dog home with her. Dawn is obviously very much alone and desperate for company. At a convenience store, she runs into her old nemesis from Welcome to the Dollhouse, Brandon McCarthy (now Kieran Culkin), who looks more than a little worse for wear.

After a few moments of nervous, awkward conversation, Brandon asks Dawn whether she would like to accompany him to Ohio. “What’s in Ohio?,” she asks. “Crystal meth,” Brandon replies. It’s only a joke, he adds quickly, although we strongly suspect it is not. In any case, Dawn agrees to accompany him.

 

To read more please follow  : https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/07/20/wien-j20.html