Keaton Nigel Cooke Tracy Letts Julie Delpy Greta Gerwig Kieran Culkin Danny DeVito Ellen Burstyn
It’s a dog’s life—at least Wiener-Dog’s life, which goes through five owners. Throughout, the dog appears to be serene and offers great comfort and satisfaction to others, most of whose lives are miserable. Remi (Cooke) treasures Wiener-Dog, and gives her that name. Unfortunately, his parents (Letts and Delpy) are poor dog (or child) caretakers, don’t train their son in the basics of caring for an animal, and take it to the vet to be put down.
The vet’s assistant manages to rescue the anesthetized dog when the vet answers the phone, takes it home with her, and nurses it back to health. Writer-director Todd Solondz slips bizarre bits of humor in his films, and here, he has included two characters from a previous movie, Welcome to the Dollhouse. The nurse, played by Greta Gerwig, is named Dawn Wiener, the character in Dollhouse who was teased and called “Wiener Dog” at school. Now she is grown up and chances to meet a fellow classmate from grade school, Brandon McCarthy (McCulkin), who calls out to her, “Wiener Dog!” After chatting a bit, he asks if she wants to go to Ohio with him. He doesn’t seem to care that much for her, but he likes the dog.
In Ohio, they stay with his brother and his wife (both of whom seem to have Down’s Syndrome). Dawn is so good-hearted, when the couple really takes to the dog, which she has named Doody, she leaves her with them in their stable suburban neighborhood.
Somehow, though, the dog manages to get out and go exploring for many miles, and is picked up by Dave (DeVito), a severely depressed, angry screenwriter and teacher at a film school, where he is about to be fired because of his negative attitude. He comes up with a plan that I won’t divulge, and the dog ends up going to another owner.
Nana (Burstyn) is very old and mostly blind, so has a caretaker, but the dog sits by her constantly and seems to be about the only joy she has in life. But the story doesn’t end there…
Continuing his recurring themes about troubled people and families, death, and cruelty Solondz dishes those up again in this film, and although it’s labeled a “comedy” it is not likely to draw out much laughter. I did find Danny DeVito funny at times, such as after giving a synopsis of his sordid screenplay, he moans, “I wanted it to be funny.” I also chuckled when he puts a frilly dress on Wiener-Dog and takes her out walking, and when he continually instructs him film students that every screenplay starts with “What if…”.
The cast of actors is really fine, and James Lavino’s music and Edward Lachman’s cinematography all brighten up the screen in its telling some very dark tales. The exception, of course, is the interminably long shot of dog diarrhea.
You’ll say, “Awwwww” to Wiener-Dog herself, but "Noooo" to the dark tale.