Review: Todd Solondz's 'Wiener-Dog', Starring Danny DeVito, Julie Delpy, and Greta Gerwig

Director and writer Todd Solondz presents us with four tales of misery, all with one common denominator: A female Dachshund. There can be something so invigorating when telling several stories that have a tie-in that binds them together, but Solondz's bleak and misery-ridden Wiener-Dog isn't one of those films. He's content to tell several stories while the dog traipses in and out of every one of them without any reason other than she just happens to be there.

The first of four tales is about a couple (Tracy Letts and Julie Delpy) who bring home the dog for their son, Remi (Keaton Nigel Cooke). Having recovered from cancer, Remi's parents think it'd be good for him to have a dog. But neither parent is quite ready for the responsibility that comes with actually owning an animal. They're also not prepared for all the questions that Remi begins asking. Why is the dog getting neutered? Does it hurt? What does it mean to be put to sleep? Overwhelmed with the responsibility of the dog (Remi feeds the pooch a granola bar and dog diarrhea ensues), the pair send the Dachshund to the vet to be put down.

Not wanting the dog to die, Dawn (Greta Gerwig) kidnaps the dog before the procedure can be completed. At a grocery store, she runs into former classmate, Brandon (Kieran Culkin), who looks so uninterested when they meet that when Dawn offers to come with him in order to catch up, I was surprised he didn't high-tail it out of the store to avoid the rest of the conversation. Alas, they end up driving to see his family and Dawn leaves the dog with them because she's decided they need the canine more than she does. It feels a bit random and contrived that the only way to keep the dog in the movie is to forcibly pass her along to someone else.

In the blink of an eye, we're in the office of despondent college professor and screenwriter, Dave Schmerz (Danny DeVito). He teaches and comments on the work of his writing students while trying to constantly reach his agent about the latest script he's written. When his agent leaves him behind, he realizes his best days are behind him and so he plants a bomb on the dog and leaves her in the building, while walking away. This poses an interesting question: If Dave also wanted to be in the building when the bomb blew it up, why the hell does he leave? Moving on, an elderly woman is getting a visit from her granddaughter, whose sole purpose is to ask her grandmother for thousands of dollars to help fund a boyfriend she's not sure is faithful to her.

The Dachshund doesn't have a name, wandering around without any sense of love or life to her step, just like her several owners. Wiener-Dog is lifeless and dull. The film's scenes lack fluidity. They're clipped and although Solondz is asking us to sympathize with all of his utterly sad and seemingly hopeless characters, it's very hard to do so. For one thing, we don't spend a long enough time with anyone to care about their individual plights. Everyone comes and goes, but there's nothing to grasp onto and the dog's presence doesn't exactly provide a sense of stability, either.

The film is called Wiener-Dog, but the dog could have been taken out of the picture in three of the four stories and it wouldn't have made much of a difference. Solondz's dark humor doesn't work, the pacing is extremely slow, and the four stories feel incomplete and oddly thrown together. The only feeling that manages to flow all the way through is one of misery. Misery for the characters and for anyone who will sit down to watch this film.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5