In the indie world, the idea of personal branding has in some ways replaced the auteur theory. No one wants anymore to speak of creative signature — for instance, the precious framing and idiosyncratic characters that dominate the work of Wes Anderson or the blue mood of New York neuroses that defines Woody Allen’s film world.
But director Todd Solondz (Welcome to the Dollhouse) continues to force audiences to stare into stark and unflinching scenes of never-ending personal humiliations. That’s his auteurist signature.
In his latest, Wiener-Dog, an open-hearted veterinary assistant (Greta Gerwig) saves a sick dachshund that eventually wanders through the lives of a series of sad-sack dysfunctional types, each more bleak and challenged than the last. The dog serves as a tease, tempting the foolish among us into considering that a ray of hope has slipped through the ever-present dark clouds. But Solondz presents the misery of others with no concern for creating a comfort zone either for his characters or the audience.
In past films, critics have raised the alarm that he comes close to branding himself a callous misanthrope with a streak of cruel misogyny. But I believe there’s more at work in his filmography.
His grand fascination just might be in inspiring us to watch without judgment — a philosophical challenge worthy of an impersonal purist. And in Wiener-Dog, he offers us a God’s-eye view of a world that just might be better off if it went to the dogs. (Now playing at the Esquire Theatre) (R) Grade: B+