Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. USA, 2016. Annapurna Pictures, Killer Films. Screenplay by Todd Solondz. Cinematography by Edward Lachman. Produced by Megan Ellison, Christine Vachon. Music by James Lavino. Production Design by Akin McKenzie. Costume Design by Amela Baksic. Film Editing by Kevin Messman.
Todd Solondz once again takes a central character on a stroll through a set of discrete narratives, but this time instead of the young woman of constantly shifting identity (Palindromes), the narrative through-line is the titular canine. This sweet-faced, companionable pup finds his way into the lives of a number of troubled and conflicted characters who all inadvertently make him bear the weight of their own bad choices: a boy who doesn’t know how to properly feed him and it makes his parents (Tracy Letts, Julie Delpy) give the dog up immediately, a veterinary nurse (Greta Gerwig playing the grown-up version of Heather Matarazzo’s Welcome To The Dollhouse character) who uses the dog to bring her closer to Kieran Culkin as her former school bully, a burned out film professor (Danny DeVito) who includes the dog in his plans for revenge on a simpleminded world, and a bored senior citizen (Ellen Burstyn) who blithely allows herself to be taken advantage of by her selfish granddaughter (Zosia Mamet) before her taking her pet for granted has devastating results akin to the choices she now regrets making in life. The heavy symbolism can be interpreted any way you like, the dog can be a place holder for the problems we ignore or represent the solutions we incorrectly think will fix our lives, but either way there’s no getting around the fact that it’s an uneven collection of stories that are not consistently entertaining. Acerbic and hilarious at times, the film hits high points with Gerwig’s performance and Burstyn’s sequence at the end, while the DeVito story shows Solondz spelling out his hatred of disingenuous film culture of the present too clearly, giving those who pursue the cult of celebrity while pretending to appreciate art their deserved treatment but in a manner so obvious as to be almost graceless.