Wiener Dog, the latest movie from writer/director Todd Solondz, is not a pleasant film to watch. It’s a hard movie, filled with unlikable characters who often are doing selfish, unpleasant things to themselves or each other. The movie is a series of vignettes, all only connected by the presence of a single dachshund, who passes from owner to owner, most of whom don’t know the first thing about taking care of him or themselves. Most of the movie is best watched through your fingers.
Some of that was conveyed in the marketing for the movie, but there was an attempt it seems in retrospect to make it more palatable for the mainstream audience. Sure there was some meanness and hints at a dark tone in the trailer, but it was presented in a way that gave it a more upbeat and engaging veneer. But there’s nothing in the marketing that makes it clear to the audience just the kind of darkness they’re in store for. It’s downbeat from beginning to end, from the parents who are way too blunt with their sick kid to the sad young woman who escapes her life to travel with a meth dealer to the frustrated screenwriter who’s stuck teaching a college course to the old woman whose granddaughter visits only to get money.
All of that ads up to a movie that presents no redeeming qualities in its characters. No one here is an objectively good person. Some are better than others, to be sure, but that’s about as good as it gets here. The dog is often just a conduit for these characters and not a plot point in and of itself. Actually, that’s not true. Usually the dog starts out in some manner as a peripheral point in each story but winds up playing a pivotal role. It ultimately comes down to the titular dog at the end.
The best and most accurate part of the campaign was simply explaining to the audience Solondz was the one behind the movie. That told a certain portion of the public what they could expect. The rest of the audience had to go with the rest of the marketing and may have been surprised when they pulled up what they might have thought was a quirky, if slightly dark, comedy about a cute dog.