Todd Solondz’s Twisted Cinematic Family Tree Sprouts a ‘Welcome to the Dollhouse’ Follow-Up

By  · Published on October 24th, 2014

Sony Pictures Classics

Dawn Wiener is dead, long live Dawn Wiener!

Todd Solondz’s second feature film, Welcome to the Dollhouse, is hailed as the filmmaker’s big breakthrough – a bold, gross, weird and uncomfortably honest look at one awkward tween’s coming-of-age in nineties New Jersey. The film starred Heather Matarazzo as Dawn “Wiener Dog” Wiener, an outcast desperate to fit in with her bone-headed peers, her terrible family and a classmate who repeatedly attempts to rape her. As is Solondz’s signature, the film is admirable and unique, even if you feel like you need a shower after watching it.

The Hollywood Reporter now reports that Solondz is “sort of” working a sequel to the 1995 Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning feature film, as the filmmaker is currently casting for Wiener-Dog, billed as “an ensemble indie that is tied together thematically by a dachshund.” Moreover, “the script tells several stories featuring people who find their life inspired or changed by one particular dachshund, who seems to be spreading comfort and joy.” Of course, anyone who is familiar with Solondz likely won’t think, “oh, yes, a dog” when they hear “wiener-dog,” they’ll think of Dawn Wiener, and they won’t be wrong, because one of the new film’s stories will indeed be about Dawn Wiener.

Wait. How does that work?

Spoiler alert: Dawn Wiener is dead.

Although Dawn didn’t shuffle off this mortal coil in Welcome to the Dollhouse, her character’s death led off Solondz’s 2004 film Palindromes, which literally opened with her funeral. In the world of Palindromes, Dawn had made it all the way to college, where she gained a significant amount of weight, got pregnant and killed herself. That’s kind of hard to come back from. Still, even death can’t abate Solondz’s desire to revisit the character, who is set to be played by Greta Gerwig in the new film.

Solondz’s cinematic universe – like the Marvel Cinematic Universe! except not at all, thank God! – has long recycled characters and stories, so it should come as little surprise that he’s resurrecting Dawn for his next feature. Playing by the rules isn’t Solondz’s bag, and Wiener-Dog doesn’t sound like the kind of film that’s very interested in rules. Perhaps Dawn Wiener won’t be the only recurring character in the film because, after all, that’s the sort of thing Solondz has done plenty of times before.

Need a refresher on how Solondz’s characters tie together? We’ve got you covered.

Solondz’s 1998 feature, Happiness, presented his audience with another irrevocably fucked up family: the Jordans. Happiness tracks the three Jordan sisters’ lives (and their truncated searches for that eponymous emotion), weaving in stories about child abuse, rape, career fulfillment, sexual deviance, suicide and lots more.

Split into two sections – “Fiction” and “Non-Fiction” – Solondz’s 2001 Storytelling is a bit an outlier that doesn’t tie into the rest of his oeuvre. Well, the rest of his previous oeuvre. We’ll get to that.

Again, Palindromes opens with Dawn’s death. The film then goes on to follow Dawn’s cousin, Aviva, who is played by eight very different talents in the film. Although Aviva’s experience within the film isn’t positive, it ends on a bit of an up note, though not for her cousin Mark (Dawn’s big brother!), who has recently been accused of molesting his little sister’s baby.

In 2009, Solondz delivered his most “direct” (but still very loose) sequel to both Happiness and Welcome to the Dollhouse: Life During Wartime. That film includes characters we already know, including all three of the Jordan sisters and some of their children, and two Wiener men from Dollhouse: Dawn’s dad Harvey and brother Mark. The two family trees start blending when Harvey and Trish Jordan start dating (uh, that doesn’t work out). Part of the confusion regarding Solondz’s sequels is that he often recasts his characters. For instance, although Trish was played by Cynthia Stevenson in Happiness, the role was taken over by Allison Janney in Life During Wartime.

By the time Life During Wartime ends, Harvey and Trish are no longer together, but Trish’s son Timmy and Harvey’s son Mark share an emotional scene that bonds them.

Solondz’s latest film, 2011’s Dark Horse, revisits a storyline from Storytelling (we told you it would happen!), as it focuses on Selma Blair’s character, Miranda, formerly known as Storytelling’s Vi. There may be no Wieners or Jordans in the film, but it ties back nicely into a Solondz feature that previously didn’t have any obvious connections.

Solondz has long proven his interest in revisiting his characters – even in the most unexpected of ways – so why not bring Dawn back from the dead? Especially for a film that looks to, gasp, maybe give her a little taste of happiness?

Julie Delpy is also reportedly in talks for a role in Wiener-Dog. There’s still no word on who will play the actual wiener dog.