Remi (Keaton Nigel Cooke), who’s survived a serious illness, is delighted when his dad (Tracy Letts) brings home a gift. It’s a brown female dachshund, and the boy immediately dubs his new pet Wiener-Dog. But where Remi sees a much-needed companion, his mom (Julie Delpy) sees a housebreaking challenge. And unfortunately, she turns out to be right.
The dog has a close brush with death before falling into the hands of Dawn (Greta Gerwig), a socially awkward young woman who’s only too happy to renew her friendship with childhood friend Brandon (Kieran Culkin). During a road trip, Dawn turns over the dachshund -- whom she has given a hilariously unfortunate new name -- to another couple.
When we next encounter the animal, she’s in the company of screenwriter Dave Schmerz (Danny DeVito), whose film school gig is in jeopardy. His students think he’s a miserable hack, and he’s not sure he disagrees with them.
After an out-of-nowhere but alarming incident involving the police, the dog winds up in the care of Nana (Ellen Burstyn), whose granddaughter (Zosia Mamet) makes yet another infrequent visit with the same goal as before: to indulge in chitchat before soliciting money.
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“Wiener-Dog,” clearly inspired by French director Robert Bresson’s “Au Hasard Balthazar,” is unapologetically depressing – and among the most inventive and exhilarating films of the year. Written and directed by Todd Solondz (“Welcome to the Dollhouse”), the film makes few if any concessions to mainstream tastes. This is a clear case of what you see – or can stand – is what you get.
But at a time when even niche films are virtually scrubbed clean of any traces of eccentricity, Solondz’s downbeat vision of humanity is downright refreshing.
Gerwig steps outside her comfort zone as the needy Dawn (who was the central character in “Dollhouse”). DeVito lends poignancy to the desperate Dave. And Burstyn is at her best in the film’s most brilliant segment.
Looking for a feel-good movie? Fortunately, this film doesn’t qualify.
Cast: Greta Gerwig, Kieran Culkin, Danny DeVito, Ellen Burstyn, Keaton Nigel Cooke, Zosia Mamet, Julie Delpy
Director: Todd Solondz
Length: 90 minutes
Rating: R (language, disturbing content)
Chapel Hill: Silverspot.