Todd Solondz (Welcome to the Dollhouse, Happiness) doesn’t make mainstream movies. They’re dark and quirky and you either buy into his sad worlds or you don’t. In this one, he uses a dachshund to connect four tales of people at different stages in life grappling with meaning and mortality, as the dog moves mutely from owner to owner.
The dog begins as a gift to a boy who has survived cancer who names her Wiener Dog, but she’s given up when she becomes an inconvenience for the rich parents. Next she is rescued by a veterinary clinic worker (Greta Gerwig) who takes her on a road trip with an old crush and leaves her with the only truly happy people in the film, a Downs Syndrome couple. Then, after a cutesy intermission, we meet the dog as she is the only real relationship a film school professor (Danny Devito) running short on luck has, and she serves as a final act of drama and end of his career. And her final owner is a blind woman (Ellen Burstyn) who has given up on life and named the dog Cancer.
The stories are very loosely linked, but all have the same Solondz “life kinda sucks” feeling. I’d recommend this to fans of Welcome to the Dollhouse. In fact the Greta Gerwig character is named Dawn Wiener, the same as that film’s insecure 7th grader lead. Is this really what happened to her? Ultimately I don’t think Wiener-Dog is going to find a big audience out there among the summer blockbuster crowd or even the legion of dog lovers. It’s entertainment for those who like dark, absurd flicks.