We had the opportunity to hit the premiere of the new Todd Solondz written/directed film Wiener-Dog, during the BAMCinemafest in Brooklyn. Read our review below.
In TODD SOLONDSZ directed/written new film WEINER-DOG, which premiered at the 8th annual BAMCinemaFest in Brooklyn, far more than the story of a stray dog was told. Here we are presented in classic Solondz fashion a series of character sketches, explorations, examinations. Despite decent acting and good lines, WEINER-DOG is not a happy story. The pleasure comes from the way each character deals with the despair of life and its inevitable conclusion. This nearly algorithmic approach is totally repetitive on paper, but intriguing to witness on screen because it’s fantasy for many people: how would this person deal with this? To watch a single theme run through so many different minds, so many filters, so many realities… it transforms the circumstance and the landscape of the film into something with built-in surprise and suspense. The dog was uniting, but was only a catalyst for a greater story- the dog ultimately being reduced to a punchline and a clever intermission piece.
In terms of writing, real results tend come from Solondz very particular humor. Watching audience reaction is almost as good as the writing itself. during the Q&A after the film, director Solondz admitted that he packages his writing with a sense of ambiguity. It’s not a disregard for context; certainly not. In fact, there is a hyper awareness of character place and history beyond anything I’ve ever seen. Often his scenes are accented by punchlines (usually too many to count), and are occasionally the punchline themselves. The elongated practice of setting-up, framing, filling and finally executing a punchline is welcomed here, despite its unfamiliarity as an approach in today’s filmmaking. The patient build-up with an element of predictability (and the satisfaction of being right) is something that contemporary humor has largely forgotten with the dawn of 6 second, 15 second, and 30 second video ops. ‘Viral’ is never ‘long’. Solondz honors time, letting jokes almost be so practical in nature that you realize you’re laughing for more than on reason: at least personal experience and the stupidity of it all.
However, the double-edged sword for WEINER-DOG is the pace. There’s so much to pick up, which is complicated because while Solondz is an expert at timing a joke, he’s not so good at pacing the jokes themselves. It isn’t a bad thing but it does mean that viewers may have to watch this more than once to catch everything. WIENER-DOG touches on just about everything from middle American drama, corporate culture, skittish film students- in this regard it feels totally present and TODDs sense of culture is palpable. Solondz even goes so far to examine the life of a mentally disabled couple, briefly addressing a deficit in American film as a whole: honest communication and, critically, humor surrounding mentally disabled. While this was only a scene, Solondz allows it to play out and the viewer is permitted to laugh with the characters, and walk a line that lets mentally disabled people be human, and with that, be vulnerable in a mortal way, not in self-esteem.
Further families include a wealthy avant-garde family with a mother played by Julie Delpy. Follows to a neurotic Dawn Weiner as a veterinarian assistant and her road trip with Macaulay Caulkin’s brother, then to Danny DeVito who maintains a top performance of the film, sad, rambling, unkempt, concerned, careless. It is a role DeVito plays well, always has, but here it is a special element of tenderness and personal pain that isn’t exhibited in most of DeVito’s grumpy, joke-target type cast. The dog dies at the hands of Zosia Mamet’s grandmother, played by Ellen Burstyn, who has the most extreme reaction to mortality: surrealist thoughts of her possible lives. And that ties it all together. Everyone makes choices, if you make the right one, no problems. Make the wrong one, and people will make your choices for you. Except if you’re a dog. Choose to cross the street, you might as well get hit.
In theaters now as a limited run.