Master misanthrope Todd Solondz has made a career with films that luxuriate in dysfunction and despair yet somehow remain engagingly nihilistic. He’s at it again in “Wiener-Dog,” and even the presence of an adorable Dachshund cannot save the humans around him from their hopelessness.
The conceit of his latest exercise in droll negativity is presenting the misery from the viewpoint of the cute dog, who finds herself being herded from owner to owner, each with their own distinct shades of the pathetic.
What makes this watchable is that Solondz (“Welcome to the Dollhouse,” “Happiness”) knows how to create vivid characters, even when all of them seem to be painfully resigned to the meaningless of life. The ensemble cast here is uniformly excellent, and knows what to do with Solondz’s playful impudence.
The first of four segments begins when the dog is rescued from a shelter and becomes the pet of a sickly boy (Keaton Nigel Cook, solid) and his self-absorbed parents (Tracy Betts and Julie Delpy, at her chirpily caustic best). As the doggie puke mounts (to the sounds of “Claire de Lune”), the Dachshund is sent to her next date with dreariness.
Soon, she comes under the care of a socially challenged vet worker (Greta Gerwig, very good), who happens to be Dawn Wiener, Solondz’s alter ego character from “Dollhouse.” Needless to say, Dawn’s life has not taken a turn for the better. The next owners on the dog’s tour include a pathologically struggling screenwriter (Danny DeVito) and a resentful, ailing woman (Ellen Burstyn, brilliant) who wears giant sunglasses to hide the light of truth that she has wasted her time on Earth.
At the end of the day, “Wiener-Dog” seems to be saying that life is mundane, then you die. It’s not the stuff of Hallmark cards, but Solondz has a way of making it palatable.
(At the Tivoli.)
Rated R. Time: 1:30.