Dogs have often been a force of nature when it comes to outstanding performances or simply being used as something to get across to audiences a message in film. It’s been seen through the years and even resulted in the Palm Dog Award being created in 2001 at The Cannes Film Festival. Taking that familiar approach, Todd Solondz’s dark comedic indie Wiener Dog puts a soft-coated dachshund front and centre as its focal point as we witness four different individuals take it on as a pet in very different circumstances.
Beginning as a pet for young cancer survivor Remi (Keaton Nigel Cook), our wiener dog of the title finds himself in the care of a boy who is all too often left playing with his dog between cage doors, with his parents (including a brilliant Julie Delpy) at loggerheads much of the time. Unfortunately, it would appear that the dog is the last thing that cements the unrest in the house and, when fed a ‘nutritional bar’, the dog leaves a trail of unpleasantry it looks like his number is up.
Thankfully, when taken to the vets for an inevitable fate, wiener dog is saved by the inward and rather unfashionable Dawn Wiener (Greta Gerwig). The awkward Dawn soon takes the dog on a trip with a familiar old school face in Kieran Culkin’s Brandon as they visit his brother. From there, Brandon’s brother takes the dog before soon we find him in the ownership of Danny DeVito, in full film lecturer mode and then finally reaching final owner Ellen Burstyn who names him ‘Cancer’.
As you can gather from the final naming of Wiener Dog, here we have a film that isn’t quite on the positive side of the spectrum when it comes to love for animals. In fact, Wiener Dog is quite intent on using its focal dachshund as a means of getting across stories of ultimate sorrow, depression and indeed death. It’s a dark comedy that will certainly strike a chord with some audiences, but also leave many others desiring a bit of love for this little sausage dog and leaving the end of the film with a bitter pill to swallow.
At just under 90 minutes, Wiener Dog certainly flies by, especially with its interconnecting stories often whipping you up to then move you on swiftly to the next owner of choice. Some reach their conclusion successfully while others (Greta Gerwig’s story the notable arc to finish rather promptly) feel like they need just a little bit more resolution and meat to leave us satisfied with their conclusions. That said, the talent involve, for the most part, are rather engaging and help to make the film exactly what it wants to be.
Overall, Wiener Dog is a mixed bag of sorrow and dark humour that definitely isn’t quite for the dog lovers out there. If you’re a fan of indies that don’t play by the rules and play for the more subtle and dry of humour then this one is the film for you.
Wiener Dog is out on DVD now.