Wiener-Dog [2016] follows the life of a pet dachshund as it is passed from owner to owner, unwittingly becoming witness to the dramas within each of its new companion’s lives. Presented in four acts, writer and director Todd Solondz’s eighth feature film can be viewed as a companion piece to his independent success, Welcome to the Dollhouse [1995].

As dog as my witness: The role of the dachshund as a key observer throughout each of the four stories stands as Wiener-Dog’s strongest feature. Only with its mere presence, the tiny dog is continually able to point the audience toward underlying character motives while highlighting the central themes that the film aims to explore. A recurring theme of mortality runs through every story, creating a feeling of melancholia as each individual plot develops. Solondz, who frequently analyzes modern suburban America in his work, continues to reflect on this fascination throughout Wiener-Dog to great effect. A faux intermission between the film’s second and third act puts the dachshund herself at the heart of modern America as she travels past crime scenes, strip clubs, and vast desert.

A howl of laughter: The comedy presented in Wiener-Dog is sharp and undeniably dark – Solondz staying true to form. Scattered amongst heavy themes and the occasional touching moment, this dark humor is often deployed to shake up the norm. As the audience is lead into a sense of comfort within the melancholy, Solondz almost can’t help but rock the boat. Mariachi bands, guilt over tipping, explosives, and granola bars all aim to tickle the slightly twisted side of our sense of humor. Both Danny DeVito and Julie Delpy excel in delivering Solondz’s comedic vision.

Blast from the past: Twenty-one years after the release of Welcome to the Dollhouse, Solondz manages to carefully reintroduce old characters that helped propel his 1995 feature to critical success. Main character Dawn Wiener also briefly features in Palindromes [2004], which opens with her own funeral after she commits suicide. The latest return of Dawn (Greta Gerwig) and Brandon McCarthy (Kieran Culkin) feels natural, however, with the presence of the wiener-dog drawing them together regardless of their previously difficult middle school relationship. Despite the dachshund’s influence over characters within the film’s other acts, the weight of the history between Dawn and Brandon helps push their story forward without too much further intervention from their canine companion. While it is hard to forget Dawn Wiener’s previous fate in Palindromes, her presence in Wiener-Dog’s second act seems to work. Solondz’s decision to give this character her third outing - essentially resurrecting her from the dead - leaves him skating on thin ice but he somehow manages to find his way back to solid ground.

Wiener-Dog could be regarded as a bit of a gamble for Solondz,
but it does not leave him out in the doghouse.