The little Wiener dog (known to us in the UK as a dachshund) is the real star of this movie. He wanders through from owner to owner with a change of name each time, often being taken up by someone who doesn’t bring much joy to the long dog with short legs.
Initially the dog is bought by a father (Tracy Letts) for his sick son. His wife (Julie Delpy) is not keen on dogs and they leave him almost dead at the vet’s after he goes for an operation. Rescued by the vet’s assistant (Greta Gerwig), she takes him is on a trip with her boyfriend (Kieran Culkin). He is then handed over to the boyfriend’s Downs Syndrome brother.
Following an amusing, very short and somewhat strange “Intermission” when we hear the Wiener-Dog song and see the dog walking in front of famous tourist spots, we next see the little dog with an unsuccessful screenwriter (Danny DeVito) who also teaches at a film school where the students make fun of him. There is an incident with a bomb attached to the poor dog before we progress to the Wiener-dog’s final owner, an elderly blind lady (Ellen Burstyn). Now called Cancer, the little dog moves on not terribly happily, I’m afraid.
The cast of well-known actors are all excellent in their parts. While they may have different acting styles director Todd Solondz manages to use them all as individuals and yet keep them as part of his overall story. It helps, of course, that the film is made up of different segments so that the actors work just on their own particular tale. It’s unusual to see Greta Gerwig in a non-comedic role as the sympathetic vet’s assistant who takes pity on the dog and saves his life. She gives a subtle performance without flamboyance, as, indeed, does Danny DeVito who suffers as a failed screenwriter who has to listen to pitches from youngsters. Ellen Burstyn is believably bad tempered in her portrayal of an old lady listening to her granddaughter (Zosoia Mamet) who gives lots of reasons for not visiting recently and just says she now wants to see her grandmother. Burstyn soon realises why the girl has come and asks, “How much do you want?”
It’s a quirky black comedy – but without a lot of humour – in which the long dog with very short legs suffers at the hands of his various owners. The dog moves with dignity and, although he never speaks, seems to convey an inherent sadness.
Well worth watching, the film is available now on DVD.
Review by Carlie Newman