(Directed by Todd Solondz) (2015)
A film of many dog day afternoons, with a docile, uncomplaining dachshund the trope for hope and the lifting of spirits, this beautifully shot but slurpily-cadenced film is a poignant dance through a series of sad-funny lives and circumstances.
From his first rejection (taken in the back of a ute from a farm to the shopping mart featuring a Chuck E Cheese, a 99c Store, an Armed Forces Career Center, ‘My Urgent Care Walk-in Medical’, ‘Vitamin World’, ‘Shoes etc’, AT&T, Liquor and, relevantly, a “Shake A Paw”), wiener dog is shuttled around. First there is a messy, disastrous stay at the sterile home of tight-arsed (pet-hating) control-freaks whose son is recovering from cancer (a recurring theme); then a rescue by downhearted vet assistant Dawn Wiener (Greta Gerwig), who identifies the pet as a soul-mate and lucky charm. Dawn is driven to accompany ex-school bully Brandon on a road trip to Ohio. At first we think Brandon (Kieran Culkin) wants the Wieners along as cover for his drug forays – then we find something much more awful and truly human. (No, we don’t mean the homesick Mariachi band that also tags along – possibly Solondz’s homage to the hitchhikers in Five Easy Pieces). Brandon’s downie brother and his downie wife are sweet but frightened, and unfulfilled, even though they get to feast on hot dogs and cokes for every supper.
Whilst the young couple, even more alone now thanks to Brandon’s unhappy news, are momentarily enlivened by assuming the care of wiener dog, suddenly he turns up in the doomed and stricken life of failed screenwriter (and failed film-school tutor) Dave Schmerz (Danny DeVito), who will use his only friend to leave the world a farewell message that vindicates his much-maligned ‘What If?” approach to screen narrative art.
Then wiener dog ends-up in the comfortable lap of a rich, elderly dowager (Ellen Burstyn), who finds him a warm and ingenuous companion, a comfort amid her visitations by the unwanted and the portentous. These take the forms of flaky granddaughter Zoe and her no-good installation artist, who come looking for dough, and a number of fairies representing the person the old lady could have been. By the time the fairies have flown, wiener dog has again moved on, but as to where, you’ll have to watch.
The Varnished Culture was unfamiliar with the work of Todd Solondz, but on the strength of this entry, it is obviously well worth investigating. This piece is a little overcooked, but nevertheless brings us a rich array of human hope and human despair whilst slyly insinuating that Man’s best friend might be a little more discriminating in choosing friends.