“We’re dogs only friend.”
Todd Solondz is a man of few words, with a lot to say. Wiener-Dog is his space to comment. His “comedy of despair” is a road trip through a cross-section of society’s lowest and loneliest. It highlights those without purpose, those without place and those without hope, using the titular canine as the connective constant. Hopping from one disconnected story to another, we are taken across the spectrum of American life, giving Solondz time to subvert norms and ignite reaction.
The film works within areas of society under-served by Hollywood; groups either swept under the rug or kept in one dimension. Solondz takes us into the homes of a disabled couple living a happy, normal life and a senior citizen with little left to live for. He guides us into the lives of a young cancer survivor and a Mexican family dissatisfied with American life. He takes us on a walk beside a veterinary assistant without energy and a film-studies professor left behind by times’ advance. His characters are all missing something; something vital to their happiness.
Their despair is framed by abstract humour and form, giving each scene the illusion of breeziness. Solondz offers us the film we expect for the first forty minutes, the Wiener Dog is central to each individual story, passing between characters through coincidence and incident. It isn’t long before Solondz tears up the rulebook. Wiener-Dog is a film made on Solondz’s terms, subverting the “shtick” that we expect, criticising the fact that he had to have a gimmick at all. Homeward Bound, this is not.
Danny DeVito’s character is part comment on the film Solondz had to make, and part criticism of Woody Allen. DeVito’s quiet sadness is powerful; Philadelphia couldn’t be further away. Through DeVito, Solondz asks the question he cares about most: Why couldn’t he make a serious film, tackling real emotion without needing it to make money?
I’m aware this may all sound like a sociology lecture, but I assure you, it’s one you’ll enjoy. The pup is a sweet hook but it’s the human stories that resonate. This is a constant, consistent comedy, as absurdity frames the most serious situations. This is not the film the trailer will sell you. It’s much smarter, much stranger and much better.
Images courtesy of teasertrailer and thefilmstage respectively.