Sean K. Cureton

Wiener-Dog: Picaresque Fable & Dystopian Fantasy

In Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week on September 17, 2016 at 12:21 pm

Amazon Studios/IFC Films

Wiener-Dog (2016)
Directed by Todd Solondz
VOD Rating: Liked It

Standing as the other great independent filmmaker of the 1990s hailing from New Jersey, Todd Solondz is everything that Kevin Smith is not. Trading irreverent populism for biting realism, Solondz’s filmography is markedly dour. Despite attempting to write what he claims are mainstream comedies, Solondz is a filmmaker whose work is unrelentingly bleak. Even when characters like Dawn Wiener – from both his 1995 sophomore effort Welcome to the Dollhouse and its spiritual sequel Wiener-Dog from earlier this summer – seek love in earnest, the trials and tribulations endured in the effort often outweigh the meager rewards. Characters in Solondz’s films are the outcasts and misfits forced to settle for less in a world that appears to have left them behind, or perhaps never really cared about them to begin with. But seeing characters in such dire domestic straits is miraculously inclusive and fantastically achieved, as anyone from the Garden State might relate of a life lived in the shadow of bigger and better things in New York City, be they imagined or not.

Serving as an anthology film, Wiener-Dog finds Solondz at his most concise and optimistic. Following the travels of a singular dachshund as the household pet passes from owner to owner, the film examines several less than fulfilling ways to spend one’s mortal existence. Starting under the care of a highly dysfunctional family that leaves the vulnerable creature under the care of a far too innocent young boy, the dog is quickly whisked away to apparent euthanasia after consuming mass amounts of chocolate and granola. Enter Dawn Wiener of Welcome to the Dollhouse, who quickly saves the poor animal from impending death and nurses it back to health. The titular wiener-dog than eventually gets passed along to several subsequent owners through a marvelously circuitous series of interconnecting stories, characters, and micro-events.

In the same way that Solondz has examined quiet humanity and spiritual desperation in past films like Happiness from 1998 and Storytelling from 2001, Wiener-Dog veers towards nihilism at every twist and turn. Individual protagonists struggle against the constricting forces of a world on the brink of collapse that suffocates anyone who would so much as hope or aspire to anything greater. Set against the dueling landscapes of northern New Jersey and metropolitan New York, Wiener-Dog is part picaresque fable and part dystopian fantasy. In Welcome to the Dollhouse, Dawn Wiener plays the would-be coming of age protagonist whose inner value is only just beginning to blossom into fruition. In Wiener-Dog, the same fictional heroine has become resigned to playing the part of a walk-on role in the same story.

Yet the film doesn’t feel bleak at all. All of the characters whose lives are interconnected throughout Wiener-Dog work together in a macro sense, even as their independent volition is only relevant in a micro sense. Nobody’s hopes or dreams matter in any real way in Wiener-Dog, yet such a self-defeating prophecy simultaneously serves to uplift the film’s bleakness by casting personal despair within the context of a communal pastime. If everyone else is feeling as downtrodden as Solondz makes them out to be, then there is no real shame in feeling alone, unwanted, and irrelevant. There is a community of despair throughout Solondz’s films that provides for a sense of immediacy and connection between characters and story arcs that seeks to include the viewer in a way that is remarkably honest, forthright, and earnest, even if there are no happy endings.

Wiener-Dog is currently available on Amazon Prime, and is my Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week.

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