dir-scr Todd Solondz
prd Christine Vachon, Megan Ellison
with Greta Gerwig, Ellen Burstyn, Danny DeVito, Julie Delpy, Tracy Letts, Kieran Culkin, Zosia Mamet, Keaton Nigel Cooke, Michael James Shaw, Connor Long, Bridget Brown, Charlie Tahan
release US 24.Jun.16, UK 12.Aug.16
16/US Amazon 1h30
A boy's best friend: Cooke and Wiener-Dog

gerwig burstyn devito
sundance london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Wiener-Dog Arthouse veteran Todd Solondz continues to slice through the artificiality of human interaction with a series of vignettes that centre around an adorable dachshund. The connections between the episodes kind of fall apart as the film continues, but the characters and relationships are startling all the way through. As are the film's observations about the nature of intelligence.

Wiener-Dog's first owner is Remi (Cooke), a young cancer survivor whose parents (Delpy and Letts) think he needs some company. But housetraining him is a struggle. Next he's adopted by Dawn (Gerwig), who takes a cross-country trip with her old pal Brandon (Culkin) to meet his brother and sister-in-law (Long and Brown). Then there's Dave (DeVito), a screenwriting professor whose students have lost all respect for him. So he turns to his dog to make a point. And finally, Zoe (Mamet) goes to visit her grandmother (Burstyn), who has named her new dog Cancer.

While the first two stories are linked narratively, the final two (which come after a hilarious intermission) are stand-alone pieces, even though they all involve the same perky little dog. The animal-human connections are a clever prism through which to explore cultural biases and prejudices. And each scene unfolds in Solondz's inimitable style, with awkward interaction that's played by a gifted cast to look earthy and raw as well as comically stylised. This makes everything very funny, but with unnervingly jagged edges.

In some ways, the segments look like comedy sketches in which the humour is as brittle as humanly possible, pulling out telling nuances that are wickedly amusing, unflinchingly provocative and darkly moving at the same time. The cast is excellent at striking this balance and creating characters who are unpredictable and quirky without ever being too annoying. This comes most naturally to Gerwig and Mamet, while Burstyn, Delpy and Letts are especially fine in much darker roles. DeVito's turn is solid, even if the role isn't much of a stretch.

As usual, Solondz spins his tales with a singular vision that isn't always apparent to the audience. Some elements of the film are rather perplexing, riffing on pop culture from Linklater's Boyhood to his own Welcome to the Dollhouse. The DeVito segment is perhaps too on-the-nose in this sense, with an unsympathetic protagonist who is understandably fed up with the laziness of Hollywood's formula for success. At least no one could ever accuse Solondz of falling into that trap.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 31.May.16

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© 2016 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall