Combustible Celluloid
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With: Keaton Nigel Cooke, Tracy Letts, Julie Delpy, Greta Gerwig, Kieran Culkin, Connor Long, Bridget Brown, Danny DeVito, Sharon Washington, Ellen Burstyn, Marcella Lowery, Zosia Mamet, Michael Shaw, Melo Ludwig
Written by: Todd Solondz
Directed by: Todd Solondz
MPAA Rating: R for language and some disturbing content
Running Time: 90
Date: 06/24/2016

Wiener-Dog (2016)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Pup and Away

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Indie filmmaker Todd Solondz, best known for his morose 1990s films Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness, returns with this peculiar, deadpan road movie, which is as aimless as it is fascinating.

The parents (Julie Delpy and Tracy Letts) of a young boy, who has survived cancer, surprise him with a pet Dachshund. The boy names her "Wiener-Dog." After an unfortunate incident involving doggie diarrhea, Wiener-Dog ends up rescued by Dawn Wiener (Greta Gerwig), and taken on the road with an unexcitable old acquaintance (Kieran Culkin).

The dog is then passed to a developmentally disabled couple, a depressed screenwriter-turned-teacher (Danny DeVito), and then a money-grubbing twenty-something (Zosia Mamet) who tries to get money from her grandmother (Ellen Burstyn) to finance her boyfriend's newest animal-related art project.

Wiener-Dog vaguely recalls Robert Bresson's great film Au hasard Balthazar (1966) in which a donkey goes through several owners and affects their lives in interesting, spiritual ways. The doggie of this movie, on the other hand, seems to become less and less important, inspiring no spiritual awakening, and very little hope.

But Solondz somehow injects these miserable characters with a weirdly appealing humanity, even if they rarely make us laugh out loud or evoke any sympathy. They are like skilled stick figure drawings, an off-beat representation of humanity. The almost random appearance of Dawn Wiener, the main character from Welcome to the Dollhouse, now 21 years older and played by Gerwig -- rather than Heather Matarazzo -- adds to an atmosphere of puzzlement. It's as if something just outside the margins is intriguingly missing.

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