REVIEW: Wiener-Dog (The Sydney Underground Film Festival)
Julie Delpy, Danny DeVito, Greta Gerwig, Kieran Culkin, Ellen Burstyn
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…an engaging, albeit slight, adventure that toys with the absurdity of mortality.
Director, Todd Solondz, is best known for the homage to the socially awkward, Welcome To The Dollhouse (1995) and Happiness (1998), in which razor-sharp, barbed jokes about pedophilia, rape, and masturbation joyously offend even the most jaded audience member’s sensibilities. In other words, he’s the kind of director whose films are perfect for The Sydney Underground Film Festival.
It’s curious then that Wiener-Dog, Solondz’ latest, is, in comparison to Happiness at least, an oddly light affair. At its heart, it’s a film about death, and how the living deal with that grim reality. It takes four (extremely) loosely connected narratives, all of which involve the titular pup, and explores them with varying degrees of squirming awkwardness and subtle pathos. There’s little in the way of navel-gazing here, and any sense of true meaning is left up to the audience’s discretion.
Like most films that juggle multiple narratives, the quality is inconsistent. Highlights include Julie Delpy’s “comforting” story to her son about a rapist dog named “Mohammed” to try and rationalise Wiener-Dog getting spayed, and Danny DeVito as a hacky screenwriter who is slowly driven to revenge against his dead-eyed, hipster film students. Greta Gerwig also features as an adult version of Solondz’ most famous character, Dawn Wiener (who was killed off in Palindromes but lives once more!), and Ellen Burstyn delivers a blistering performance as an angry old woman who names the dog “cancer.”
There’s also a musical interlude for intermission, and some drawn-out poop jokes for good measure. Wiener-Dog may not quite live up the legacy of Solondz’ more acerbic work but it’s an engaging, albeit slight, adventure that toys with the absurdity of mortality. Plus, the dog’s really cute.