>>> Bow down to Wiener-Dog

Todd Solondz's latest is his finest and most accessible film in years

WIENER-DOG (Todd Solandds). 90 minutes. Opens Friday (July 10). See listing. Rating: NNNN

Todd Solondz and his distinct brand of empathetic misanthropy return with a four-part anthology film about the inevitability of death and a wandering dachshund. It’s the writer/director’s finest and most accessible movie in years, bitterly funny and painfully moving.

The first and final shorts are the strongest, featuring a bleakly funny July Delpy and Tracy Letts as the unfortunate parents of a cancer survivor with a dog diarrhea problem, and a heartbreaking Ellen Burstyn as a woman facing death through visions of lost life paths. In between, Greta Gerwig charmingly resurrects Welcome To The Dollhouse’s protagonist for a brief moment of happiness in a hard-luck life, and Danny DeVito stars in a mild misfire as part-time prof Solondz’s on-screen surrogate in a cheap mockery of film student clichés. 

Beautiful, vibrant cinematography by Edward Lachman gives the first clue that the dour director has lightened up slightly. His frequently hilarious film has moments of genuine joy and warmth alongside some vicious social satire. There’s even a hysterical doggie intermission rooted in viral video surrealism. Granted, it’s also the set-up for a pavement-smeared gut-punch finale, but that’s Solondz for ya. Even when he plays nice, viewers leave scarred.      

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