Humans have always adored and required the companionship of pets. Throughout history we have willingly taken animals into our home, spent money on their welfare and only ask for their presence in return. It is both a strange and heartwarming phenomenon as well as an ode to the maternal/paternal instincts found in all humans. But just how much impact do pets have on our lives? Through an interesting take on its own narrative design, Wiener-Dog gives us a surprisingly more human-centred answer to said question than expected.
Wiener-Dog focuses on the story of a dog’s journey to find a home. Along the way she is passed from one dysfunctional owner to the next. But be aware this is not a dog film. This is a people film. The dog is there to give perspective and a reason to peer into the lives of the human characters. Much like the perspective of the pets in our own lives, we do not see with a full understanding or context, but with a vibe of sympathy.
The film never focuses too long on a single owner and never overstays its welcome. This gives the audience only a brief glimpse into the lives of each of the owners. As a result, Wiener-Dog may feel alienating to audiences not accustomed to this sort of film. However, if you know what to expect, it is easy to find joy in this film that is neither fast paced nor slow, and decides to meander over each segment offering its own philanthropic philosophies.
Those familiar with Solondz’s films will be able to draw parallels to his other work, particularly his 1998 picture Happiness. As a director, he is as obsessed with the dysfunctional truth as Irvine Welsh is with failure. A trademark skill of Solondz is his ability to make his films completely pitch black and nihilistic in tone and darker than your average black comedy yet never bleak. There is always a sense of sympathetic humanity in his films brought out by his own dark and rather alternative sense of humor. To give an example would be to ruin the, for want of a better phrase, “punch line” to a lot of these segments, so it comes recommended to watch his films as blindly as possible.
Greta Gerwig and Kieran Culkin as the old high school friends on a strange and confusing road trip are in particularly interesting to watch. Their humdrum, dry attitudes to each other and the situations around them are engaging, and Danny DeVito as the one-hit-wonder screenwriter turned depressed Professor of screenwriting is for me, the strongest segment. Surprisingly, DeVito is one of the least funny characters in the entire feature and instead draws upon his strengths as a dramatic performer. The result is tear-inducing and well worthy of praise.
Wiener-Dog is a deliciously quirky romp delivered with a lot of confidence. There is a real feeling that Solondz has created something he really wanted to create. Although sometimes drearily depressing and even downright cruel, Wiener-Dog knows its intended audience and doesn’t cater to people outside of that. Genuinely and sincerely earning laughter, as well as tears, Solondz has created a spectacular film. A film that deserves the attention of film enthusiasts and alternative-comedy fans alike. Wiener-Dog is a coherent and unique take on black arthouse comedy, and definitely worth watching if you want more out of your comedy than just senseless laughter.
See the film now at FACT - click to book tickets.