Todd Solondz’s Wiener-Dog is billed as a ‘dark comedy’ although it is far more dark than comic. If pressed to put a number on it, I’d say that, despite the film’s poster, which shows a cute dachshund’s butt, and leads you into thinking cute dachshund thoughts, this is 98 per cent dark, and the sort of film that actually makes you want to come home, draw the curtains, and stick your head in the oven. Life’s a bitch and then you die, it says, literally. There’s every chance you’ll hate it. I’m not convinced I don’t. But this is a film that, once seen, you’ll always know you’ve seen and, in the most disquieting way, it feels as if it has somehow seen you too.
Solondz has never been in the business of affirming human decency (Welcome to the Dollhouse, Happiness, Palindromes) or of making films for broad tastes. You may not share his misanthropic world view and you may not be a fan — he has many non-fans — but you do have to salute his courage, I think. This time out it’s the tale of a single dachshund (a ‘wiener-dog’ is the American way of saying ‘sausage-dog’) that is shuffled from owner to owner. Solondz does not care about the dog — in a recent interview he described his canine star as ‘unbelievably stupid’ — and neither does anybody else particularly. The dog is a device to connect the four separate households who come to own it. There’s the rich kid who’s recovering from cancer and has a vile mother (Julie Delpy) and a father (Tracy Letts) who is just as vile. (‘Heel, motherfucker!’ the father tells the wiener-dog, while the mother tells the boy bedtime stories about her childhood poodle being ‘raped’.)