“Wiener-Dog”

 

            Director/writer Todd Solonz began his career by writing “Fear, Anxiety, and Depression.”  That should tell you something.  “Wiener-Dog”'s promo advertising is misleading; you think you are going to see something cute and funny and what you get is a dark satire of things superficial, pathetic, and uncomfortable in our culture.  Beginning with how everyone thinks the dachsund is so cute, but he really doesn't do anything brave or loyal or endearing.  In fact, he pretty much does nothing except get terrible diarrhea when fed too many granola bars.  And that's funny why?

            “Wiener-Dog”'s premise isn't that bad:  the dachsund begins in a kennel in a shelter, and is “rescued” by a succession of dysfunctional humans.  The first set is a young boy just out of the hospital, with his angry-at-each-other parents, who argue over everything.  The boy looks innocent, but he tries to release the dog instead of delivering her to the vet to be spayed.  He's the one who feeds her the granola bars, right after allowing her to tear up the feather pillows and make a mess all over the living room.

            Now the Wiener-Dog changes hands, as a worker at the vet's office (Greta Gerwig, in a decidedly unglamorous role) takes her home, and eventually brings her on a spontaneous road trip with an old high school friend---who is hunting for a hit of heroin?  What's funny about that?

            The third segment involves a sad-sack Danny DeVito, who's overweight and gone to seed as a professor of screenwriting in a specialized trade school, that has since realized their depressed instructor is not writing any more, and is a lousy teacher, to boot.  Apparently all he tells his students is to ask “What if....then what?” And they make fun of his mantra behind his back.  A really uncomfortable moment is when the school asks a recently successful graduate to return to the student body and say what he learned in his studies there, and he honestly replies, “Absolutely nothing,” and encourages the students to drop out and go write on their own.  Well, that would only be funny if you enjoy other people's discomfiture, which is starting to take shape as a connective theme here.

            In the last segment, Ellen Burstyn plays an old lady with a silent caregiver whose edgy, fidgety granddaugther comes to visit after a four-year-absence, boyfriend-with-attitude in tow, asking for money.  There's a lot of pathos in this scene, but still no love, even for the dog, who by now has been seen with a succession of owners, but still hasn't really done anything except stand there on all fours, panting.  Yes, well, the rest of us are exhausted after the ordeal of watching this movie, as well.  Do yourself a favor and don't bother subjecting yourself to this drivel posing as parody.

 

Questions for Discussion:

1)                  Your favorite pet?

2)                  Your least favorite pet?

3)                  Your favorite pet belonging to someone else?

4)                  Your least favorite pet belonging to someone else?

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association