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Sundance Review: Wiener-Dog

The first movie I got to see at this year's festival couldn't be more Sundancey if it tried. Wiener-Dog is the perfect movie for indie movie-loving hipsters, and apparently, I'm one of them. The film follows the titular wiener dog through four vignettes: a father buying the dog to be a companion to his young cancer surviving son, a vet rescuing the dog and taking him on an unexpected road trip, the dog's life as a pet to a washed-up film professor, and finally living with a crotchety old woman near the end of her life whose granddaughter pays a selfish visit.

Not every storyline is created equal in this dark-humored comedy, and seeing how well the first two stories lead into each other makes the final two transitions a bit jarring (even if we do get a wacky intermission thrown in for the heck of it...which I will admit, did make me chuckle.) The first two vignettes, one featuring Julie Delpy as the cynical mother of the aforementioned boy smitten with his new wiener dog, and the other with an awkward but sweet Greta Gerwig meeting a zoned out Keiran Culkin are strong and have some real tender moments, as well as genuine humor. When we get to Danny DeVito's film professor story though you can't help but feel that it was thrown in just for the Sundance crowd. It's like you can hear the director say "now let's do a segment all about the art of film and dissect filmmaking, as well as the people who claim to love films." I, of course, find it interesting as someone who loves film, but I can't help but feel that it doesn't really go with the rest of the movie. There's not a ton of humor in this vignette until the punchline of why the dog was important to this storyline, which humor happens to be so dark, that it will be up to filmgoers whether they'll find it funny, or a little too bizarre. I appreciated the joke but didn't feel like there was a proper enough setup for it.

The last vignette featuring Ellen Burstyn returns to the feel of the first half, with more humor throughout, but again feels somewhat isolated. Like the last storyline, we don't know how the dog came into the old woman's possession, but rather he just shows up to be a silent observer. There's some self-referential humor again about art this go-round, but it's less on the nose than in the previous segment. A rather bizarre sequence occurs near the end of the film, that depending on the viewer might take them out of the movie because it threatens to cross the line of being a little "too weird." I still went along with it, but more mainstream audiences probably will not (if they make it that far!) The ending itself was particularly dark and strange, so not getting too attached to the dog would be my advice for anyone going in. In the end, I found wiener-dog to be strange, precocious, funny, quirky, but ultimately uneven. In summation: it is a typical indie film with the desire to show several slice-of-life scenes, rather than going into anything too profound. RATING: 6/10


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