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Four stories, one tail

Todd Solondz discusses Wiener Dog

Our Dachshunds, ourselves.
Our Dachshunds, ourselves.

Writer-director Todd Solondz’s Wiener Dog follows the titular animal through four stories with four different owners: a sweetly curious boy (Keaton Nigel Cooke), a compassionate young woman (Greta Gerwig), a frustrated middle-aged man (Danny De Vito), and a hardened old-timer (Ellen Burstyn). It’s a good, sympathetic movie, one that takes in a great range of human experience in economical, unshowy, enjoyable fashion.

Matthew Lickona: Is there something about the temperament of a wiener dog that made it the right dog?

Video:

Wiener Dog official trailer

Todd Solondz: I don’t know about the temperament, but it’s certainly a very cute dog, one that people often get weak-kneed about because of its charm. And of course, I thought of Dawn Wiener’s name from Welcome to the Dollhouse, so it all seemed to click for me. But I learned from the ASPCA rep over the course of production that because of inbreeding, because of the demands of the marketplace, one of the side effects of this mismanaged breeding is a deficit in intelligence. We worked with three or four of them, mainly, and they were all remarkably stupid. These were show dogs, and all of them were unresponsive to any command whatsoever.

ML: So, what looks like noble stoicism is just mute dumbness?

TS: Right, what looks like deep thoughts is just an empty shell. But oftentimes, I think people tend to anthropomorphize their dogs; the dog can be a kind of vessel for the owner’s own hopes or yearnings or illusions, what have you. We can project a kind of innocence and purity onto them, such that any harm that comes to a wiener dog would [inspire feelings] greater than anyone would feel were it to happen to even a fellow human being.

ML: You have several extended events during the film: the long panning shot of dog diarrhea, the long series of questions from the child to his mother, etc. How do you know when to end a moment like that after you’ve drawn it out?

TS: There are different reasons behind those scenes. Certainly with the tracking shot of what the dog leaves on the curb, I was somewhat inspired by the traffic accident shot in Godard’s Weekend. If I had left it for a few seconds, it would have been just a joke. But by extending it, it becomes, at first, maybe a little funnier, and then, for me, it becomes poignant in the way it’s juxtaposed against the Debussy [on the soundtrack] — it’s contextualized. Really, it’s about mortality, because mortality is the true subject of the film — the way it hovers over and shadows each of the characters and storylines. When the child speaks to his mom and tries to understand something like what it means to be spayed...you know, as adults, we often take things for granted. We don’t examine assumptions that are fresh and new for a young child. I read J.R. Ackerley’s My Dog Tulip years ago, and I thought that if there were some alien species that landed on our planet and thought we were really cute and we’d make good pets but they’d have to neuter us, it would be a curious thing to consider whether we would be the aliens’ best friend the way dogs are our best friends.

Movie

Wiener-Dog **

thumbnail

Writer-director Todd Solondz follows the titular animal through four stories with four different owners: a sweetly curious boy (Keaton Nigel Cooke), a compassionate young woman (Greta Gerwig), a frustrated middle-aged man (Danny De Vito), and a hardened old-timer (Ellen Burstyn). Through the pup’s mostly mute, mostly sweet presence, the boy learns about humanity and death, the young woman about humanity and love, the middle-aged man about humanity and work, and the old-timer about humanity and art (sort of). Though really, death is always in there, too. The style tends toward the artificial and the humor toward the archly droll, but the stories themselves are perfectly sincere. With Zosia Mamet, Kieran Culkin, Julie Delpy

Find showtimes

ML: In every segment, there’s some element of pure sweetness, which can be a delicate and sometimes difficult thing to portray. Is that a new development for you?

TS: I’ll leave it to others to say if it’s a new development. But for me, it’s always been about the juxtapositions, the friction you create between the comedy and the pathos, the tenderness and the cruelty that abound in these worlds that I’ve devised. Yes, the dog is run over and it’s cruel and it’s comical and it’s tragic — not tragic, let’s say it’s terribly sad — but then I also resurrect it: art is a transformative thing, and it finds a continued life in a different way. I think everything is fraught with ambiguity, and that’s what excites me as a filmmaker.

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Our Dachshunds, ourselves.
Our Dachshunds, ourselves.

Writer-director Todd Solondz’s Wiener Dog follows the titular animal through four stories with four different owners: a sweetly curious boy (Keaton Nigel Cooke), a compassionate young woman (Greta Gerwig), a frustrated middle-aged man (Danny De Vito), and a hardened old-timer (Ellen Burstyn). It’s a good, sympathetic movie, one that takes in a great range of human experience in economical, unshowy, enjoyable fashion.

Matthew Lickona: Is there something about the temperament of a wiener dog that made it the right dog?

Video:

Wiener Dog official trailer

Todd Solondz: I don’t know about the temperament, but it’s certainly a very cute dog, one that people often get weak-kneed about because of its charm. And of course, I thought of Dawn Wiener’s name from Welcome to the Dollhouse, so it all seemed to click for me. But I learned from the ASPCA rep over the course of production that because of inbreeding, because of the demands of the marketplace, one of the side effects of this mismanaged breeding is a deficit in intelligence. We worked with three or four of them, mainly, and they were all remarkably stupid. These were show dogs, and all of them were unresponsive to any command whatsoever.

ML: So, what looks like noble stoicism is just mute dumbness?

TS: Right, what looks like deep thoughts is just an empty shell. But oftentimes, I think people tend to anthropomorphize their dogs; the dog can be a kind of vessel for the owner’s own hopes or yearnings or illusions, what have you. We can project a kind of innocence and purity onto them, such that any harm that comes to a wiener dog would [inspire feelings] greater than anyone would feel were it to happen to even a fellow human being.

ML: You have several extended events during the film: the long panning shot of dog diarrhea, the long series of questions from the child to his mother, etc. How do you know when to end a moment like that after you’ve drawn it out?

TS: There are different reasons behind those scenes. Certainly with the tracking shot of what the dog leaves on the curb, I was somewhat inspired by the traffic accident shot in Godard’s Weekend. If I had left it for a few seconds, it would have been just a joke. But by extending it, it becomes, at first, maybe a little funnier, and then, for me, it becomes poignant in the way it’s juxtaposed against the Debussy [on the soundtrack] — it’s contextualized. Really, it’s about mortality, because mortality is the true subject of the film — the way it hovers over and shadows each of the characters and storylines. When the child speaks to his mom and tries to understand something like what it means to be spayed...you know, as adults, we often take things for granted. We don’t examine assumptions that are fresh and new for a young child. I read J.R. Ackerley’s My Dog Tulip years ago, and I thought that if there were some alien species that landed on our planet and thought we were really cute and we’d make good pets but they’d have to neuter us, it would be a curious thing to consider whether we would be the aliens’ best friend the way dogs are our best friends.

Movie

Wiener-Dog **

thumbnail

Writer-director Todd Solondz follows the titular animal through four stories with four different owners: a sweetly curious boy (Keaton Nigel Cooke), a compassionate young woman (Greta Gerwig), a frustrated middle-aged man (Danny De Vito), and a hardened old-timer (Ellen Burstyn). Through the pup’s mostly mute, mostly sweet presence, the boy learns about humanity and death, the young woman about humanity and love, the middle-aged man about humanity and work, and the old-timer about humanity and art (sort of). Though really, death is always in there, too. The style tends toward the artificial and the humor toward the archly droll, but the stories themselves are perfectly sincere. With Zosia Mamet, Kieran Culkin, Julie Delpy

Find showtimes

ML: In every segment, there’s some element of pure sweetness, which can be a delicate and sometimes difficult thing to portray. Is that a new development for you?

TS: I’ll leave it to others to say if it’s a new development. But for me, it’s always been about the juxtapositions, the friction you create between the comedy and the pathos, the tenderness and the cruelty that abound in these worlds that I’ve devised. Yes, the dog is run over and it’s cruel and it’s comical and it’s tragic — not tragic, let’s say it’s terribly sad — but then I also resurrect it: art is a transformative thing, and it finds a continued life in a different way. I think everything is fraught with ambiguity, and that’s what excites me as a filmmaker.

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2

I would love to read a few reviews of movies currently in theaters rather than all these hipster interviews with directors, writers, whomever. Or maybe I should say "along with" all the hipster interviews. But like, let's review an actual movie that's playing locally someplace that isn't the Digital Gym. Even elitist Duncan Shepperd/Shepherd/Shepard reviewed regular releases. Has anyone reviewed "The Free State of Jones?"

June 29, 2016

Every Friday, we have a post linking to all of that week's reviews, which post includes nearly every new release, "regular" or otherwise. Alas, we did miss Free State of Jones last week, but we did review The Shallows and Independence Day: Resurgence, which were the other wide releases. Reviews can also be found by clicking on "Movies" and scrolling through the posters for films currently in theaters.

June 30, 2016

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