Film Review: Weiner-Dog
Weiner-Dog screened in the Plymouth Arts Centre from 20th – 22nd September.
Since streaming services became available and more widely used, there has always been a relatively healthy rivalry between Netflix and Amazon Studios. When it comes to their original film projects it appears that Netflix is gunning for a broad audience by producing Adam Sandler films. Amazon Studios, (more refreshingly) seem to be embracing interesting and unique independent films such as Love and Friendship and the fantastic film showing at the Arts Centre this week; Weiner Dog.
Weiner Dog is directed by Todd Solondz and focuses on a very cute Dachshund who throughout the course of the film, is owned by four different sets of characters who all have their own story to tell. Although the film is feature length, it is really four short films linked by one dog that has a varied impact on the owner’s lives. The starry ensemble cast is impressive and the four stories told are very entertaining and each has their own unique themes.
The first story involves a family who buy a Weiner Dog for their cancer surviving Son. The Son develops a strong bond with the dog and is rarely a part from his pet. This story’s unique theme is parenting and Julie Delpy (who plays the Mother) offers some very ‘dark’ but humorous reasons as to why Weiner Dog needs to be spayed. It’s this first story which is much more ‘dog-oriented’ compared with the rest of the film and there is some excellent ‘black’ comedy which would likely divide most audiences. Luckily the audience I watched it seemed to thoroughly enjoy the ‘dark’ humour.
The second story involves a mini-road trip with Greta Gerwig and Kieran Culkin (who has had a vastly healthier career than his older brother Macaulay) and focuses on drug abuse and alcoholism in an America where opportunity is a scarce commodity. In some ways it sounds depressing but there are parts of the story which are very funny, especially when the two potential love interests pick up three Mexican hitchhikers who miss their home and share their negative opinions on the USA.
After a short but amusing intermission with the catchiest song not on the Radio, titled ‘Weiner Dog’, the story is then told from the point of view of Danny DeVito’s College professor and aspiring screen writer. This was probably my favourite segment of the film (although I am biased as I do love Danny DeVito) but he was very good in this film. He definitely played ‘against type’ and the themes surrounding the story were loneliness, depression and the ‘fakeness’ of mainstream Hollywood. His conversations on the phone with his various ‘Agents’ are painful as it is clear that they do not have his best interests at heart. Although DeVito’s role is short (like everyone’s in the film) he delivers one of his most heart-breaking performances and one that is worth the price ticket alone.
The fourth and final story stars Ellen Burstyn, who has had a late in the day career resurgence by starring in House of Cards earlier this year but will forever be remembered as Chris MacNeil in The Exorcist. Her story is quite short but a stronger offering than the first two stories. Her Granddaughter (played by Zosia Mamet) pays a visit with her angry but pretentious artist boyfriend called Fantasy (played by Michael Shaw). Ellen Burstyn is brilliant in her story and does so much with a surprisingly little amount of dialogue. The main highlight of the story is towards the end when she is faced with various forms of her younger self who tell her what they represent if she had done things differently, for example ‘if you’d married the man you loved’ or ‘if you had been kinder to your daughter’. Like the rest of the film it is both funny and starkly depressing. One of the themes dealt with in this story is ‘Choice’ and Burstyn’s character has to deal with the choices she has made in her life at the end of the film.
I wasn’t a big fan of the very end and some of the humour is a bit ‘on the nose’ but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, considering the director’s work is known for being divisive. Going back to the Amazon and Netflix rivalry, it appears Amazon is more than a worthy rival to Netflix by choosing to work with innovative and thought provoking film makers.