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Au hasard, Dachshund – Todd Solondz’s Wiener-Dog (2016) – DVD review

January 17, 2017 by Simon Kinnear in At Home with 0 Comments

A throwback to 1990s shock-satire with one problem – enfant terrible Solondz has grown up and hasn’t figured out how to mix sobriety with scandal.

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Wiener-Dog
(Todd Solondz, 2016)

Once upon a time, Todd Solondz was the enfant terrible of indie cinema.  Films like Happiness were deliberate acts of provocation upon audiences.  But what happens when such a filmmaker grows up? As Danny De Vito’s Dave Schmerz, a filmmaking teacher observes, it’s a case of ‘what if’ and ‘then what.’  What if the mood of cinema moves on?  Then what?

This film is at once a throwback to Solondz’s 1990s heyday – it even resurrects the lead character in his debut, Welcome To The Dollhouse – and the work of an older director who is altogether more elegiac and less inclined to shock.  Yes, this has the mix of hipster cool and John Waters-esque outrage that made his name (who else would dare to have an extended tracking shot of a sidewalk covered in dog dioarrhea?), but the shock is very half-hearted.

It’s a co-production between Amazon Studios and Megan Ellison’s Annapurna, two of the few places interested in auteur cinema when today’s film culture revolves around superhero movies – here given typically short shrift.  Yet there’s also the sense that Solondz hasn’t quite figured out what to do with the beneficence of his funders.  It’s an awkward, fragmented film, a kind of arch remake of Au Hasard Balthazar as it follows the many owners of the titular dog, a mute witness to the pain, loneliness and stupidity of humanity.

As with many multi-strand films, it’s a mixed bag.  The segment with De Vito is the best by far, its sour vision of becoming culturally obsolete given emotional nuance by the star’s careworn performance.  The opening sequence is a sardonic detonation of the American family unit, with Tracy Letts in great form as a supercilious but inept father, but even this can’t quite escape the sense that it’s been done better before – not least by this very director.

The other two meander inconsequentially, notable mainly for the way that Solondz seemingly sets up opportunities for shock value – a Down’s syndrome couple, for instance – only to play them with disarming charm and sincerity.  It says something, though, when an already short film is padded out with – of all things – an intermission.

Wiener-Dog is released on DVD and digital on 23 January.

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