What is there to say? Director Todd Solondz’ Wiener-Dog has arrived at Film Streams, and it’s not the kind of film that you “like” or “dislike.” It’s the kind of film that you just experience. So far, 2016 has been the worst year for new films in my entire life. The copious bad films have been excruciating, and even most of the good films haven’t been that good. I needed a film like Wiener-Dog. I needed a film that I couldn’t make heads or tails of but that totally enraptured me.
The easy way to talk about a film like Wiener-Dog is to describe it as a dark-comedy that follows a dachshund being passed around from owner to owner. The ensemble includes Ellen Burstyn, Julie Delpy, Danny DeVito, Greta Gerwig and many more. The hard way to talk about Wiener-Dog is by trying to convince you that a minute-long tracking shot of a dog’s bloody diarrhea, featured toward the beginning of the film, is the most cinematically engaging poop joke ever made. If you can chuckle through the lingering image of sickly stool, then I’m sure you’ll enjoy most of the bizarre humor that follows.
Much of the humor comes from the four owners of the wiener-dog, each one giving the pooch a different name, who have a penchant for contemplating their own mortality. Their stories play like standalone vignettes, arranged in the ascending order of their ages. The best of the bunch is Danny DeVito’s character, a “one hit wonder” screenwriter trying to sell his second script. His day-job as a New York film professor, forced to deal with hopelessly indecisive students, are some of funniest moments. However, there are no traditional laughs. The film is funny, but nothing about Wiener-Dog is the slightest bit upbeat.
As dark-comedy, Wiener-Dog is close to perfect. That’s why it’s such a bummer that one scene—just one—leaves such an ugly stain on an otherwise great film. An extended joke drags on and on and on because Solondz thinks it’s clever but doesn’t realize he’s making an ass out of himself. I’ve complained before that the term “dark-comedy” is often mistaken as jokes that just take cheap shots at touchy subjects. In this one scene, Solondz missteps into “bro” humor that seems removed from the rest of Wiener-Dog. He should stick to existential poop jokes.
One noticeably bad scene doesn’t quite rob Wiener-Dog of an incredible experience. After watching Wiener-Dog, I’m excited to discuss it with someone else and see if we can figure out what the hell we watched. When folks describe films that “aren’t made for critics,” they’re usually talking about blockbusters content with being loud and dumb. I think of Wiener-Dog as a film that isn’t made for critics because we are usually obligated to assign ratings that indicate our reaction to films, and this film defies that technique. I give Wiener-Dog an “A-” but I’m not sure that carries any weight. To really understand why, you’ll just have to experience Wiener-Dog for yourself.
Grade = A-