The first of the four vignettes is likely the most relatable to a wide demographic. A young boy named Remi (breakout star Keaton Nigel Cook) is gifted a dog by his father (Tracy Letts, The Big Short), much to the chagrin of his mother (Julie Delpy, Linklater’s Before series). The dog, aptly named Wiener-Dog by Remi, serves to teach the boy all kinds of life lessons: how to take care of a pet, what not to feed it, what “spayed” means, and so on. Wiener-Dog is then bestowed upon a vet tech named Dawn Wiener (Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha). Dawn’s character is first introduced to Solondz’s universe in his 1995 feature, Welcome to the Dollhouse, in which she is a miserable adolescent who endures intense bullying, including being given the far too easy nickname “Wiener-Dog.” Now grown up and working at a veterinary office, Dawn takes a liking to this dog and takes her along on a journey with her former high school bully Brendan (Kieran Culkin, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World).
After a brief “intermission” (a.k.a. Hilarious and adorable shots of the wiener-dog walking in front of green-screen landscapes), the third vignette launches and is immediately darker than the previous two. It is centered around Dave Schmerz (Danny DeVito, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), an aging and depressed film professor who is far past his prime. Schmerz has now come into possession of the titular wiener-dog, who acts as his companion and cohort in this brutally dark storyline. The fourth and final vignette features a Nana (Ellen Burstyn, Requiem for a Dream), her granddaughter Zoe (Zosia Mamet, Girls), and of course, the wiener-dog, who is now named Cancer. Cancer acts as a source of comfort for Nana in her elderly state.
Wiener-Dog’s cast is one of the greatest things about it. It is full of powerhouses from all over the map: Cook is an adorable new actor, who I hope to see in more things very soon; Gerwig is an established indie darling who brings her quirkiness to every screen she graces; and Burstyn and DeVito are seasoned actors who bring their experience to solidify the film as a whole. Each member of this diverse cast gives a substantial performance, with not a single weak link in sight.
Todd Solondz is one of my favorite filmmakers who I always forget is one of my favorite filmmakers. The cynical outlook and twisted sense of humor present in his writing appeals to me more than I’d like to admit. Though his directorial style has evolved over the years, Solondz seems to have hit his peak with Wiener-Dog. He doesn’t hold his audience’s hands throughout the film, he trusts them enough to create a nuanced film. Solondz chooses to use mostly wide still shots to showcase the action, letting the movement speak for itself and the audience think for themselves. Solondz’s minimal use of music exhibits another type of trust: his trust in his cast. Many subpar filmmakers overuse music in order to guide the audience’s emotions, assuming that the actors’ performances aren’t enough to portray what the viewer should be thinking and feeling. Very little music is used throughout Wiener-Dog, which lets the cast’s work stand alone as the driving force, as well as strengthening the cynical tone of the film.
Wiener-Dog is one of my favorite films I’ve seen so far this summer. It is incredibly well-rounded, darkly funny, beautiful to look at, and features a very cute dog: basically all of the criterion for a movie that I am sure to really enjoy.