Film review – Wiener-Dog (Todd Solondz, 2016)

Wiener-Dog is a 2016 portmanteau black comedy written and directed by Todd Solondz. The phrase “black comedy” in this sense is somewhat skewed, for whilst the comedy is sporadic, the blackness of the story is fairly consistent. There are four separate tales told, each with the tenuous common theme of the titular wiener-dog.

Of the four tales, only Danny DeVito’s Professor Schmerz ignites the script and leaves any sense of desire to expand on his story. This doesn’t mean the segment is too short – its length is spot on – it’s just that the character was interesting enough to warrant a follow-up story. Solondz, a film school lecturer himself, clearly drew on real life experiences to portray a wholly negative view of that world. There are several meaty laughs along the way (the clueless interviewee that failed to name a single film despite his enthusiasm sticks out), and the pay-off on the punchline is well worth investing in this captivating tale.

Sadly, the same cannot be said of the remaining three segments. Whilst there are moments in each that redeem them – a heartwarming brotherly chat, a wonderful moment of freedom with a pillow fight, a truly shocking hit and run accident – they are few and far between. The pairing of the painfully irritating Greta Gerwig and the uninspiring Kieran Culkin was inevitably enough to derail any movie just as it needed to get going. 

It’s almost as if Solondz was deliberately trying to antagonise his audience, setting their expectations only to pull the rug out from underneath them. Even the layout of the stories does this, providing a minimal thread from segment one to segment two, only to punctuate the second with a bizarre intermission and start the third with an entirely unrelated tale.

Solondz is considered by many as one of the great modern social commentary filmmakers. On the evidence here, that’s not the case. Better examples of his work are out there.

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