A dachshund is passed from owner to owner in an anthology of stories For a while, he’s owned and loved by a little boy. Then, he’s owned by a vet’s assistant. Then, by Danny DeVito playing a burned out writer, and finally by a bitter old woman.
I’ve been letting this movie sit with me for a few hours, hoping that my initial visceral reaction was just a reaction to all of the negativity that seems to waft off of this movie like a good stink, but on further reflection of my opinion, I’m going to stick with my guns… it’s pretty terrible and seems to delight in bringing you all things terrible.
I’m not kidding, children, Wiener-Dog, despite a title and cute little star that makes you think you’re in for a light-hearted comedy, is a parade of ugliness. Ugly characters doing ugly things and this poor little animal is just passed between them like a hot potato.
First, the dog is brought home to a child who has just gotten over some sort of deathly sickness that is never specified, but it’s probably cancer. The child loves the dog, but his mother and father are a couple of cruel people who keep the little dog locked in a cage. The mother and father… they are almost evil. I have rarely encountered characters this repugnant and incompetent in the very art of child rearing. I understand that this was supposed to be the the point, but the scenes with this mother and father posses the subtly of a baseball bat to the face.
A more tolerable story follows as the dog passes hands to Dawn Wiener from the movie, Welcome to the Dollhouse which I have never seen. Kerin Culkin plays an old acquaintance of hers who is on his way across the country and offers her a ride. Dawn pretty much drops everything and, with her dog under her arm, takes off with this guy she barely knows. It’s kind of a mystery why Culkin wants to go across the country and I won’t spoil that here for you, but it’s actually fairly heartwarming in a “first season of Glee” type of way.
Next, the dog ends up in the hands of Danny DeVito who plays a script-writer who is all out of ideas. I may not care for this movie very much, but I do have to say that Wiener-Dog probably contains the best role of Danny DeVito’s career. While he is a somewhat odious fellow who makes some terrible decisions, DeVito pours his heart into portraying this guy and actually makes him an object of sympathy and not scorn. It’s a shame that this role will probably be overlooked.
Finally, Wiener-Dog ends up with Nana, a bitter old woman who receives a visit from her granddaughter and her new boyfriend. This segment is probably the worst as far as story goes as it almost seems to forget what its doing halfway through and focus on something completely different. While the granddaughter story was okay… not original or surprising, just okay, the second half of Nana’s story is awful as she sees versions of herself if she had made different choices in her life.
The scenes play with all of the subtlety of an iron-toed kick to the face and the pitifully directed child versions of Nana only succeed in making the segment all that much more annoying.
In case you give a darn, the Nana segment ends with the Wiener-Dog wandering into a road and getting run over… several times. The director apparently loves this scene, because the camera lingers on this poor little dog getting flattened over and over again and the entire time I’m watching the one of the only characters in the movie that I actually empathized with get killed in such a cruel and sadistic way, the only thought I had going through my mind was, “Why? Why is the movie delighting in this misery? What is the point of it all?”
But that’s not the end.
You see, after Wiener-Dog is killed by cars. she is then stuffed and turned into an art exhibit. Seriously, the final shot of the movie is disturbing as if the movie wanted to punt your soul one last time.
Wiener Dog, despite the amazing performance by Danny DeVito is a parade of ugliness, mostly unpleasant with sweet moments of hope. I don’t know, perhaps this is what the director was aiming for, but the approach is bombastic and, yes, even a little arrogant. Wiener-Dog is a pompous and pretentious cynical soul-crushing experience aiming to be art, but it accidentally becomes a target for some well-deserved scorn. This movie made me feel dirty all over.