I love dogs. I love writer/director Todd Solondz. That means this is a movie I was looking forward to. At about the halfway point, I realized the two movies I loved (Happiness, and his debut Welcome to the Dollhouse), go back to the ‘90s. Solondz has nothing new to say, and is merely trying to shock us with jokes about rape, AIDS, and dog diarrhea. In that one scene, we get a long shot, with classical music, as we see the doggie doodoo, for about two minutes. Seriously, what’s the point of that?
There are four different stories. The first one deals with a rich couple (Julie Delpy and Tracy Letts), and a cute son (Keaton Nigel Cooke), who is sick. The dad thinks getting him a dog from the shelter would be a good idea. Yet we laugh hysterically as he tries walking her for the first time. And just when you think Delpy will be the sensible parent, her explanation on why you get a dog fixed, is just as crazy. The boy asks reasonable questions, but the answers he gets…show a very unstable family. That makes for a rather interesting segment.
When the dog is taken to the vet to be put down after eating a chocolate granola bar, the vet assistant (indie darling Greta Gerwig, playing the older Dawn Wiener character from Dollhouse) kidnaps it.
When she runs into a guy from high school (Kieran Culkin), she joins him for a road trip. At this point, the movie really takes a trip off a cliff. It just continually gets worse.
Culkin is a bully and uninteresting. They visit a home with two mentally challenged kids, and Gerwig decides the dog is better with them.
We get an intermission that’s cute. It shows the weiner dog in lots of different backgrounds, with a Western-style ballad (think Rawhide). As cute as that intermission is, it never really explains how the dog then gets in the hands of a screenwriting professor (Danny DeVito). He has had some success in the past, but his students and colleagues don’t respect him. This segment was a real lost opportunity. The advice he gives to his students is awful, and hacky (“You need to ask ‘what if?’”). It would’ve been much more interesting if he gave them good advice. For example, Alan Arkin played an acting coach in City Island (Andy Garcia). He’s also still trying to make it as an actor (we see him at a casting call rehearsing lines), yet when he’s coaching students, he’s given them great advice. In one scene he yells at a student for pausing between dialogue to make it more powerful (and to perhaps sound more like Marlon Brando). It would’ve been much more interesting if DeVito actually had good advice for his students, or maybe stole ideas from the students for his screenplays. ANYTHING but what he does, which is…not much.
When the students are talking about DeVito, they sound like entitled dipsh**s. So, what exactly is Solondz trying to say? They’re all idiots??? Also, when DeVito talks to his agent, we get the feeling he’s being blown off. Yet the new agent is talking about a studio interested in his script, and she has read it, and is excited about it. So it doesn’t explain why he’s still in a funk. Perhaps it would’ve been better if those agents were giving him the standard lines they give somebody they don’t want to work with, or whom they don’t think has a shot in hell of having a script greenlit.
In the last segment, again, we don’t know how the dog (now named “Cancer”), makes it to the home of Ellen Burstyn. Her performance is great. She’s not in the best of health and she realizes her granddaughter is merely visiting to borrow money (“But it’s not for drugs” she assures her). We’ve seen this type of scene before (done so much more brilliantly in Grandma last year).
Had Solondz shown us how the dog changes people in its orbit — from a young child, young adult, middle-aged, and finally an elderly person — perfect. Give us some interesting scenarios, too. The concept of following something around to different owners can be interesting. It worked brilliantly in The Red Violin, and was an okay concept in Twenty Bucks (that movie is almost 25 years old, perhaps somebody can reboot it and make it better this time).
The film gets credit for using one of the best cinematographers in the business — Ed Lachman. It’s just a shame he’s often wasted showing…dog waste strewn across a gutter. My girlfriend was so disgusted by this scene, and some of the things that happen to the dog, she said she wanted to rip the head off the filmmaker.
I merely wanted to do what my Maltese does when we go on walks and he sees a fire hydrant.
I’ll give it 1 star out of 5, for a decent opening segment, and a scene where a film student couldn’t name a single movie that inspired him to be a filmmaker. Anybody that’s ever tried talking movies with people at a party, can appreciate just how funny that scene was. Trust me, though. I’m being generous giving it even 1 star.