It’s OK to laugh.
Such advice proves prudent with Wiener-Dog, Todd Solondz’s sickly dark comedy about an adorable canine who flits between a motley crew of eccentric homes and owners. Unassuming and always attentive, Wiener-Dog, amongst the names he is given by some less than idyllic pet-lovers, doesn’t so much drive the action or characters as he is content to watch it all devolve around him.
There are moments where you will be unsure if you’re watching a drama, a black comedy, a novelty act or an entirely irreverent take on every dog/animal movie you’ve ever seen. Traditionally well-covered ground, Wiener-Dog takes filmic animal-love in an uproariously funny if stomach-churning new direction. Air bud this ain’t.
A strong cast (Julie Delpy, Greta Gerwig, Danny DeVito) deftly manage what is effectively a bunch of short stories, unconnected but for the titular McGuffin. Delpy spinning yarns to allay the fears of a young boy which only serve to faze him, and us, is matched only by a pathos-heavy turn by DeVito, regrettably devoid of the pup until he’s absolutely needed for the story which is nevertheless resolutely endearing.
The film’s penultimate and inevitable event, predictable in every sense for the keen viewer, is still as shocking as it is hilarious by virtue of Solondz’s brutal execution. You want to feel beset upon or unduly miffed but you can only laugh; the film’s counterintuitive hilarity driving a great deal of its appeal.
The final, brief sequence, even more agitating than what came immediately before yet nevertheless entirely logical, is not so much the perceptible outcome of the film’s narrative as it is the jewel in the crown of the Director’s devastating sensibilities. A cringe-worthy yet equally witty button to end the flick on, it still neglects to tie the divergent story strands together, and divergent they are, never really justifying a dive into the surreal in its latest stage or a mid-length stylistic about-turn that renders itself extraneous if nonetheless hilarious.
Regardless, the ending is a natural and wholly enjoyable conclusion to the film’s evident exploration of mortality throughout and ever-escalating series of macabre events that will delight anyone who doesn’t mind taking a lovely dog for a walk very off the beaten track.
Wiener-Dog screened as part of the Sydney Underground Film Festival, for more information head to the Festival Website