When he needed a breed of dog as the focus of his movie “Wiener-Dog,” director and writer Todd Solondz was happy he chose the dachshund — both for the level of cuteness he desired for his title character, and for the tie-in to a character he had killed off in an earlier movie: Dawn Wiener.
That said, the filmmaker chuckled during a recent phone chat as he recalled learning from various dog experts “that in the process of retaining its ability to project cuteness, certain breeds have developed a number of problems. That’s true for a number of breeds, but in the case of the dachshund, I think it’s their intelligence being diminished!
“They are pretty cute, but the reality of working with those dogs almost killed me! I didn’t know if I’d make it to the end of filming,” said Solondz with a laugh. “We worked with four or five dachshunds in this movie, and all of them were equally, astonishingly dumb!”
While loyal dachshund owners and lovers may disagree with Solondz on his opinion of their breed’s intelligence, the title character in “Wiener-Dog” ends up being a smart way to tie together the vignettes — four different stories — in his movie. Those puppy tales (excuse the pun) include a young boy (Keaton Nigel Cooke) getting the dog after a near-death battle with leukemia, a veterinarian’s assistant (Greta Gerwig) who saves the pooch from being euthanized, an unpopular film school professor (Danny DeVito) who adores the dog as much as his students despise him, and an elderly woman (Ellen Burstyn) who unexpectedly gets him in the twilight of her life.
While Solondz agreed that all four of the principal actors’ stories include strong themes of loneliness, he stressed that the “real focus for me was the subject of mortality and the ease — or lack of ease — of how each protagonist lived with that reality. Death was hovering over each of them. That was the quality that I believe is the intrinsic thing here.”
Addressing the comic moments in his film, many of them quite dark, Solondz noted, “It would be pretty unbearable if this wasn’t a comedy. This is what I would call a comedy of despair. Humor is what gets me through life. I love laughing. There are so many things in this world that are so grim. Laughter is the best escape hatch, in my opinion.”
Todd Solondz is scheduled for a Q&A after the 7 p.m. Saturday screening of “Wiener-Dog” at the Music Box Theatre.