Todd Solondz brings a thrilling misanthropy to Wiener-Dog

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      Starring Greta Gerwig. Rating unavailable

      Writer-director Todd Solondz’s fragmented tale-spinning, his transgressive notions of gender and race, and his almost gleeful misanthropy—in films like Happiness and Life During Wartime—aren’t designed to ingratiate. And yet his work is a veritable treasure chest of weird ideas and offbeat performances you can’t get anywhere else.

      In Wiener-Dog, every quantum of Solondz is channelled into short stories connected only by the spectre of mortality and the dachshund of the title. This critter is brought to a little boy (Keaton Nigel Cook) in remission from cancer, but his stinking-rich parents (Tracy Letts and Julie Delpy) quickly take the joy out of that.

      When Wiener-Dog (as named by the lad) heads to the vet with atomic diarrhea, he’s snatched by a mousy assistant. Here, Greta Gerwig blonds up the inspirationally named Dawn Wiener, played two decades ago as a child by dark-maned Heather Matarazzo in Solondz’s breakthrough film, Welcome to the Dollhouse.

      The dognapper soon encounters a former tormentor (excellent Kieran Culkin) who invites her to leave her New York exurbia for a trip to Ohio. He cites crystal meth as the reason for going, but it’s actually for a halting family reunion with his brother and sister-in-law (Connor Long and Bridget Brown)—spared the director’s usual cynicism, probably because they both have Down syndrome.

      With no explanation, the canine moves on to a struggling screenwriter and film-school professor (Danny DeVito) called Dave Schmerz (that means “pain” in German). It’s the weakest segment, although it gives Solondz a chance to mock the film industry and collegiate “safe spaces”. Finally, our pointy-snouted friend goes to Ellen Burstyn as a blind, very grouchy oldster visited by her messed-up granddaughter (Zosia Mamet) and, well, by the spirits of the lives she never lived. Really. There are surprising shards of tenderness here, and a fake “intermission” you won’t soon forget.