Thursday, July 14, 2016

Humble dog a backdrop to all

Todd Solondz’s Wiener-Dog (at the Main Art Theatre) is a wry story – or several smaller ones wrapped up in one – centred around a, well, “wiener-dog”, slang for the humble dachshund, and often the target of, well, hot dog jokes. Hence, here. The film has four stories wrapped like a bun around our humble animal friend, and starring a cast featuring Julie Delpy, Greta Gerwig, Kieran Culkin, Danny DeVito, and Ellen Burstyn. We meet wiener-dog when upscale couple Dina (Delpy) and Danny (Tracy Letts) acquire a pet for son Remi (Keaton Nigel Cooke) who’s recovered from cancer. Dina hates the dog and is proven right. The dog gets sick and shits all over the house. Remi wants to hold on to him but Danny secretively removes him to be euthanized. Only to have the veterinarian assistant Dawn (Gerwig) taking pity and spiriting the dog home. One day she meets an old friend, Brandon (Culkin) and they go on a road trip. Visiting his brother Tommy (Connor Long) she leaves the dog there. The next (third) story stars Danny DeVito as Prof. Dave Schmerz, an old hack of a film school prof trying to get his second screenplay accepted by Hollywood. The students don’t like him and a former student and now star film director cracks a joke in his presence. Schmerz, reaching his limit, outfits wiener-dog for something no good. Finally, there is the visit by Zoe (Zosia Mamet) and artist boyfriend Fantasy (Michael Shaw) to Zoe’s mom Nana (Ellen Burstyn). Zoe is after more money from her almost invalid mom. The film has a cute Intermission segment where wiener-dog marches across the country with famous American landscapes in the background. The audience is told this is the time to go for refreshments though you’d have to be fast. So what, pray tell, does this all add up to? Lots of laughs, in the black comedy sense. And plenty of stereotypes a la Americana. Are all these characters and scenes symbols, metaphors? I suppose you could read umpteen ideas into them and they’d probably all make sense. Scene One’s rich couple a destroyer of dreams and rightly shat upon. Scene two’s road trip through an American wasteland populated by nondescript losers (Dawn and Brandon). The corruption of Hollywood (careful Todd, but does it matter?) and academia in the third story, and the tragedy of old age in the last. Why not? Or deduce your own interpretations. Meanwhile, sit back and have several good laughs at the absurdity of it all. 

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