‘WIENER-DOG,’ an unforgettable passing narrative as told by filmmaker Todd Solondz

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Preston Barta // Editor

When we watch movies, we tend to watch them from their beginnings as they move towards their ends, while filmmakers try to convince us that the universe makes sense in a cause and effect narrative structure. But then, every once and awhile, you’ll happen upon a film that subverts that notion to create something even more worthwhile.

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Greta Gerwig receiving direction from Todd Solondz. Photo courtesy of IFC Films.

Todd Solondz’ latest film, titled WIENER-DOG, capitalizes on this idea.

For a while, we follow along with one story, and just when you begin to feel settled, we’re peeled off to follow another set of characters, and then another, and then another. To some, this sort of progression will be off-putting, but then you’ll notice there is a reason for why this film is assembled this way.

Once you discover why that is, it’ll either fascinate you to the core, or irritate you beyond belief. Whatever way you come out in the end, there’s no denying this film was bold enough to take you there and make you experience something new.

Solondz (HAPPINESS, WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE) has had a fascinating career. He lives in his own bubble and has never succumbed to the trappings of Hollywood. He follows his own principles and operates by his own beliefs, which as a result, gives a more personal film that has much to share— and WIENER-DOG has a lot on its mind.

The best way to describe WEINER-DOG is it’s about a dachshund that passes from person to person, changing their lives for better or worse. It begins with a boy (Keaton Nigel Cooke) getting a dog for the first time – something that many of us understand the feeling of and can relate to – but then, this boy and his parents (Tracy Letts and Julie Delpy) begin to realize how difficult it is to care for a dog.

A puppy can provide you with happiness and dog-wet kisses, but they also make messes, tear into things we cherish, or disperse fecal matter throughout our houses to color us hotter than the sun.

This is what this boy and his family experience, and from there, we get a new character to follow.

We meet different people from different walks of life in the film. But when you have a story like this, where does one even begin to mold such a narrative together, especially in a way that sternly marches towards something meaningful by the end?

We asked that very question to the man who penciled the screenplay and called the shots behind the camera.

Danny DeVito plays Dave Schmerz in WIENER-DOG. Photo courtesy of IFC Films.

Danny DeVito plays Dave Schmerz in WIENER-DOG. Photo courtesy of IFC Films.

“I actually write in a very linear fashion. I start at the beginning and write all the way to the end,” Solondz said. “This is a movie that I wanted to be about a dog and have an oblique narrative. From watching films like Robert Bresson’s AU HASARD BALTHAZAR (1966), it gave me a certain confidence and freed me up to design the movie in this way.”

Even though the dog is at the center of the story, Solondz described the dog as more of a conceit.

“It’s hard to look at a dog and its dogness because we project so much onto a dog, like its innocence. It’s all within an anthropocentric understanding as well as anthropomorphic one,” Solondz said. “A dog often becomes a vessel for human beings’ desires. It’s a very hard thing to understand, but this movie is very reflexive of the ways in which the dog becomes a vessel for all those hopes and yearnings for these characters.”

Through the characters, we discover that what the film really is about is mortality and the way in which it hovers and shadows each of the stories within WIENER-DOG.

Solondz has a recurring character in his films named Dawn Wiener, who was once once played by Heather Matarazzo (WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE) and is now played by Greta Gerwig (MISTRESS AMERICA) in WIENER-DOG.

“I always wanted to go back to Dawn Wiener because the character dies in PALINDROMES. I never intended to kill the character, but when that happened, I wanted to explore the idea of offering another trajectory for her life, but more hopeful,” Solondz said. “The idea of different possible trajectories interested me. This is not to simply have actors reprise roles but have other actors play the role. It’s an idea that I’ve always wanted to play with, and it’s crystallized at the end of this movie.”

There is something very human and poignant about the fantasy of other lives that we could lead, because we all have but one. Death and mortality is present in all of Solondz’s films. But in WEINER-DOG, it’s much more examined philosophical concept.

Take the plunge and see what kind of questions and thoughts WEINER-DOG leaves you with.

WIENER-DOG opened regionally this weekend.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.