The second film with a title containing the word “Wiener” to open in Buffalo in two weeks is – unlike the documentary on Anthony Weiner – all bun and no frankfurter.
Todd Solandz’s “Wiener-Dog” is actually four depressing, unenlightening and often ugly stories about the depressed and sorry lives of people who over time have taken ownership of a dachshund. The stories are shallow, the characters rarely believable and the gratuitous scenes – such as plops of the dog’s diarrhea the camera hovers over in a slow tracking shot to Debussey’s “Clair de Lune” – only make matters worse. It’s a film that has little to reward viewers for sitting through it, even at the 90-minute length.
Director and screenwriter Solandz, best known for the dark satirical films “Welcome to the Dollhouse, “Happiness,” “Storytelling” and “Palindromes,” is working with an interesting cast.
In the first story, Julie Delpy plays the mother of Remi, a 9-year-old cancer survivor excited to have a dog only to be traumatized by its sterilization and near death, and his mother’s stories of venereal disease and dog rape.
The dachshund next becomes the property of a veterinary assistant (Great Gerwig), who takes the dog on a road trip after bumping into former high school interest Brandon (Kiernan Culkin) so he can score crystal meth. The dog – who gets a new name with each owner – is eventually left with Brandon’s younger brother and his wife, who have Down syndrome, only to resurface in the care of Dave Schmerz, a depressed New York City film professor (Danny DeVito) desperate to sell a script.
The dog later becomes the property of an ailing woman (Ellen Burstyn), who renames the dog “Cancer.” We meet her when the woman’s long-absent niece Zoe (Zosia Mamet), an emotionally fragile woman involved with a combustible artist, visits to hit her up for money. DeVito and Mamet’s performances are the film’s best, while a closing scene with Burstyn’s character, involving look-alike red-haired girls, is ridiculous.
The most unsung, and in some ways disappointing character, is the dachshund.
This is no Disney film and the dog, while willing to go with the flow, emits little emotion. By the time the dachshund has inexplicably come into the drama teacher’s care, Solandz has even stopped showing how the transfer of ownership came about.
The premise of “Wiener-Dog,” and even a kind of nothingness that pervades the film, in other hands could have actually said something. But here, the film, despite a talented cast, feels like a big waste of time.