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Wiener-Dog (4 stars)

Todd Solondz returns to form with this portmanteau comedy that has serious bite

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Wiener-Dog

Fans of Todd Solondz have arguably had to keep the faith through what can only be described as a lean patch. After his experimental and untidy fourth film Palindromes (2004), both Life During Wartime (the 2009 sequel to his 1998 film Happiness) and follow-up Dark Horse (2011) were mediocre by his exacting standards. Happily, the American auteur is back on form with Wiener-Dog, a bitterly funny canine travelogue perfectly suited to fans of Solondz's cruel-steak comedy.

Effectively a series of short films, the link is a cute Dachshund who travels from owner to owner like a sausage-shaped Benji. But if you're expecting wholesome adventures with a dog teaching its owners how to live, you're obviously not familiar with Solondz. The first vignette sees the dog get diarrhea, pooping all over the plush house belonging to Julie Delpy and Tracy Letts' repulsive middle-class parents, and it doesn't get much better for the titular pup from then on.

The second sequence sees Greta Gerwig reprise Solondz's perennial loser Dawn Wiener from his 1995 film Welcome to the Dollhouse (despite the fact he staged her funeral in Palindromes). After a hilarious 'interval', cut to 'The Ballad of Wiener-Dog', Danny DeVito follows as an ageing, aimless screenwriter-turned-academic – doubtless a pointed jab at Solondz's own universe – before Ellen Burstyn arrives as a cantankerous octogenarian and Zosia Mamet her money-grabbing granddaughter.

While portmanteau films don't always work, Wiener-Dog feels unified by Solondz's bleak world-view and wicked sense of humour. For those who accuse him of relentless pessimism ,there's even a sliver of light as Dawn finds affection from Kieran Culkin's former classmate

Is it for everyone? Certainly not, especially if you're a dog lover. But in an industry that has all but let the indie scene stagnate, it's heartening to see Solondz can still twist the knife – and plunge it in repeatedly.

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Wiener-Dog

  • 4 stars
  • 2016
  • US
  • 15
  • Directed by: Todd Solondz
  • Cast: Keaton Nigel Cooke, Danny De Vito, Ellen Burstyn
  • UK release: 12 August 2016

Portmanteau film following a dachshund passed from owner to owner, including a cantankerous octogenarian (Burstyn) and perennial loser Dawn Wiener (Gerwig) from Solondz's own Welcome to the Dollhouse. Not for dog lovers, but Solondz fans will find that their man is back on form with a cruel and bitterly funny travelogue.

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