Review: Woof! ‘Wiener-Dog’ is Solondz at his worst

Director revisits themes of sadness and misery in his latest exercise in human emptiness

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

A dreary chronicling of human sadness, Todd Solondz’ exhausting “Wiener-Dog” shows that the director himself is in need of some new tricks.

Solondz made his mark 21 years ago with “Welcome to the Dollhouse,” which showed the savage cruelty of youth through the eyes of a bullied seventh-grader. (In it, the lead character, Dawn Wiener, was mercilessly taunted as “wiener dog.”)

In subsequent years, Solondz’ work has yielded sharply diminishing returns, playing on similar themes of suburban misery delivered under a veil of pseudo-shock. He’s like John Waters minus a sense of humor.

“Wiener-Dog” — not a sequel to “Welcome to the Dollhouse” nor a story about Anthony Weiner, though either of those would have been preferred — follows a dachshund who is passed between various owners.

There’s a child (Keaton Nigel Cooke) whose parents (Tracy Letts and Julie Delpy) are uptight yuppie-types; a pair of high school acquaintances (Kieran Culkin and Greta Gerwig) who road trip together to Ohio; a hack college film professor (Danny DeVito) nearing the end of his rope; a troubled young girl (Zosia Mamet) who hits up her aging grandmother (Ellen Burstyn) for cash.

None of the stories leave an impression, and all are handled with the same stilted, detached sense of humanity with which Solondz approaches his work.

Even Gerwig, who could light up a darkened cavern simply with her walk, is wasted under Solondz’ mirthless direction. She shuffles along with her shoulders slumped, like all characters in Solondz’ movies.

Because it’s a Solondz movie, you can guess what happens to the dog. Somehow, amid all his supposed observations about the agony of human existence, the predictability of his work is the saddest thing of all.

agraham@detroitnews.com

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Twitter: @grahamorama

‘Weiner-Dog’

GRADE: D

Rated R for language

Running time: 93 minutes