This review was originally written for Blueprint: Review.
Todd Solondz is almost the dictionary definition of an acquired taste when it comes to film. For most directors, subjects like rape, dead parents, domestic terrorism and a lifetime of remorse wouldn’t necessarily inspire a comedy, yet they’re all par for the course with Solondz in this darkly comic anthology following the various owners of an ambivalent female dachshund.
Passing through the lives of isolated youth Remi (Keaton Nigel Cooke), lonely veterinary nurse Dawn (Greta Gerwig), failed screen-writing professor Dave Schmerz (Danny DeVito) and finally an elderly curmudgeon (Ellen Burtsyn), the dog – whose name changes with each owner or is never mentioned at all – is rarely the focus, more an onlooker or oblivious pawn in the proceedings. Instead our attention dwells on Solondz’s latest selection of the dregs of normal society. All his characters are at once near-implausible extremes yet still relatable to all. Surely we’ve all experienced Remi’s desire for a friend, Dave’s exasperation at the hand he continues to be dealt, Nana’s bitter realisation of former mis-deeds or Dawn’s desperation for something, anything, to give meaning to her existence, yet our feelings probably haven’t led to some of the circumstances these characters find themselves in.
It should be stated that despite the largely jovial trailer, this isn’t a film aimed at dog-lovers, far from it in fact. The title is something of a misnomer, as the events are as much about sausage dogs as Magnolia is about flowers or bland paint. My partner is the epitome of dog-lovers, but given that the last time I saw a dog in a Solondz film he was licking fresh ejaculate from a balcony before slobbering over his owner on the mouth I wisely predicted that any canines in this film might be subjected to some untoward activities, and thus it would be wise not to have her present during the viewing. As such I’d advise you to do the same if seeing a dog in any form of distress puts you in a great deal of discomfort. That being said, there are few sights I enjoy more than the face of a happy dog, and the film is resplendent with them, and the intermission, which features various shots of the dog walking past increasingly extraordinary super-imposed backgrounds to the tune of Eric Morris’ The Ballad of Wiener-Dog is just about the most delightful sight you’ll see all year.
Solondz fans will know what to expect here and most likely will leave the film satisfied, and hopefully unfamiliar folk will be drawn in by the cute premise and won over by the twisted cynicism, but I find that unlikely. There’s enjoyment to be had throughout – one of the last shots of DeVito’s vignette is one of the most uncomfortable but untameable gut laughs I’ve had in a long while – as well as a great deal of discomfort and frustration at what some of these characters are going through, so overall I’d consider this a recommendation. The performances are mostly fantastic too, particularly DeVito and Burstyn. Sometimes the meaning of each chapter gets a bit lost, but the overall feel of the film is effective.
Choose Film 7/10