What does an upper-middle-class schmuck from New Jersey, a bully whose brother has Down syndrome, an alienated screenwriter, and a dying misanthrope have in common? A Wiener-Dog. Tod Solondz’s film uses a peripatetic dog to link four bitter vignettes about death and loneliness. The first vignette, which apes/parodies Linklater’s Boyhood, stars Tracy Letts and Julie Delpy as parents of a cancer survivor (Keaton Nigel Cooke), whom they saddle with the task of not killing the wiener-dog. In the second vignette Greta Gerwig, playing a vet-tech with low self-esteem, takes the wiener-dog and drops everything for a boy who bullied her (Kieran Culkin), accompanying him to Ohio, where there’s “crystal meth.” Somehow the dog ends up with a marginalized screenwriter (Danny DeVito) in the third, and best, vignette, which skewers white privileged progressive Millennials. Finally the wiener-dog ends up with an elderly woman (Ellen Burstyn) dying of cancer who names the dog Cancer; Zosia Mamet plays her granddaughter, an aspiring actress, who comes seeking money for her likely philandering boyfriend, an artist “like Picasso,” whose work sounds like it’s derivative of Damien Hirst, though he resents the comparison. Of course besides the dachshund, the common thread between these vignettes is coarseness, which is funny because meanness is the essence of comedy. Otherwise, the movie, while not visually arresting, seems to brim with ideas about where we are as a society—and the answer points to anomie.
By Alec Julian & Carrie White