Wiener-Dog **

Don’t be fooled: This dour look at the sad sack owners of a sweet dachshund isn’t even a film for dog lovers.

Is it worth $10? No

“Wiener-Dog” is the kind of movie that film snobs insist “you don’t get” when you leave it thoroughly unimpressed. You don’t know the director, his style, his oeuvre (they love using terms like these to make themselves feel superior), so you couldn’t possibly comprehend the film.

Well, here’s one film critic, professor, and (occasional) film snob who’s eager to tell you you’re not missing a damn thing.

A film must work on its own terms, and one should never have to read source material, be familiar with a world event or even know a filmmaker’s canon in order to appreciate a movie. True, such knowledge can deepen a viewing experience, but the enjoyment and appreciation of the film can never be dependent on that knowledge. A movie either works on its own or it doesn’t, plain and simple.

Todd Solondz (“Happiness,” “Dark Horse”) is a respected but idiosyncratic filmmaker who has a niche following and, through his works, a cynical worldview that he rarely sanitizes. If you know Solondz’s films you probably appreciate his simplicity and brutal honesty, and you may even enjoy “Wiener-Dog.” If you don’t know his work, “Wiener-Dog” is not the film to start with. It’s too eccentric, out there and dry for the uninitiated, and nor is it a film that will inspire you to see more of Solondz’s movies.

“Wiener-Dog” is about unhappiness and the way we deal with it at various stages of our lives. There is a wiener dog (dachshund), but she’s barely relevant; you will learn nothing about the breed except for the fact that they can’t eat granola bars.

What the dog does provide is an excuse to transition every 20 minutes or so from one vignette to the next, each more depressing than the last and none with the singular appeal to be compelling on its own. When the film ends it feels like you were just at a funeral.

The dachshund’s series of owners are each dysfunctional in their own way: Parents (Tracy Letts and Julie Delpy) struggle to explain life and a dog’s needs to their cancer-stricken young son (Keaton Nigel Cooke); a lonely veterinary nurse (Greta Gerwig) hooks up with an old friend (Kieran Culkin) to deliver bad news to his family; a screenwriting professor (Danny DeVito) deals with career failure; and an elderly woman (Ellen Burstyn) is bitter about her life’s mistakes as her freewheeling’ granddaughter (Zosia Mamet) stops by to mooch money. You will pity all and like none.

If director Solondz is using the dog – or the way we view dogs – to draw parallels to how humans live and view the world, the social commentary doesn’t register. Or maybe I just “don’t get it.” Here’s what I do know after watching “Wiener-Dog”: I don’t want to get it. The film inspires nothing that warrants pursuit of greater understanding. Film snobs can have this one.

Did you know?
Gerwig’s character is the grown-up version of Dawn from Solondz’s film “Welcome to the Dollhouse” (1996).

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