'Wiener-Dog' review: Todd Solondz's nihilistic, plodding story of a dog

'Wiener-Dog' review: Todd Solondz's nihilistic, plodding story of a dog

 "Wiener-Dog" opens in select cities July 1. (Photo courtesy of IFC Films, used with permission)

"Wiener-Dog" opens in select cities July 1. (Photo courtesy of IFC Films, used with permission)

Of course Todd Solondz would find a way to turn a dog's adventure into a hopeless, isolated tale. But even staunch followers of the cult filmmaker will be hard pressed to find much to get excited about in his new film "Wiener-Dog" (which screened during the 42nd Seattle International Film Festival and opens in select cities July 1). While his previous films had a dark edge - both in its humor and subject matter - this latest offering is has a wearing dullness to it.

In short: A dachshund bounces from home to home, touching the lives of four of its odd owners. Greta Gerwig, Julie Delpy, Danny DeVito and Ellen Burstyn star. (Watch the trailer)

Writer-director Solondz has built a following based on the decidedly dark and biting humor of his cult hits "Welcome to the Dollhouse" and "Happiness" - the former being a hard-to-watch masterpiece of bleak comedy. The problem with "Wiener-Dog" is not that it's too extreme or too sardonic -- on the contrary, its lack of edge is what makes this film feel like a Solondz film on Ambien.

Each of the four stories - thinly connected only by the titular canine - show flashes of Solondz's signature misanthropic, darkly funny insights - but none of the individual stories are particularly memorable. This tale of four character's isolated yearning paints the "unfair" world in broad strokes, denying any non-main character of any depth or relatability.

The movie is barely more than 90 minutes, yet it feels much too long. The film is broken up into four chapters related only by the same whiny themes - each main character is surrounded by generally insensitive people and is emotionally neglected in some way - resulting in a very repetitive movie. Moreover, each individual vignette feels too long - so even short stories that average 20 minutes in length are a slog because very little happens in each chapter. The titular canine is a total afterthought in three of the four chapters - it's a main character in the first chapter, but the dog arguably only contributes (in any meaningful way) at the end of each chapter.

Solondz has made a career of making (admittedly very dark) films. Yes they dealt with horrific subject matters, but they were compelling, presented with a unique voice and made some uncomfortable but sincere statements about the human condition. "Wiener-Dog" is ultimately a series of four flat stories - its occasional biting line of dialogue cannot make up for its poor pacing, repetitive themes and too few insights or laughs.

Final verdict: This latest Solondz offering earns points for its moments of grim, biting humor - but essentially experiencing the same nihilistic message told in four different chapters wears quickly. His most ardent fans may find parts of "Wiener-Dog" appealing - all other movie watchers will want to find another movie.

Score: 2/5

"Wiener-Dog" screened during the 42nd Seattle International Film Festival and opens in select cities July 1. This film is rated R for language and some disturbing content and has a running time of 90 minutes.

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