Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
May 2013


Two guys, a girl, a dog, and a pizza place

'Wrong' is another fascinating but inconsistent effort from Quentin Dupieux

Drafthouse Films
Director: Quentin Dupieux
Screenplay: Quentin Dupieux
Starring: Jack Plotnick, Eric Judor, Alexis Dziena, William Fichtner, Steve Little and Regan Burns
Not rated / 1 hour, 34 minutes
Now playing in limited release and VOD
(out of four)

Absurdism has been woven into the fabric of practically all modern comedy, but there remain a few out there wholeheartedly dedicated to it as its own pure aesthetic. Quentin Dupieux is one such filmmaker.

The French writer/director first garnered attention in the States two years ago with the release of Rubber, an absurd, surrealist neo-Western about a tire that goes on a killing spree while a captivated, popcorn-munching audience watches his exploits from a distance, out in the middle of the desert. So yeah.

And I loved it - up to a point. It may have been a near-masterpiece if it had been a 45- or 50-minute short. But stretched to a feature-length runtime, it lost some of its bite, as well as its curiosity. The brilliant ideas ended up taking up too much space with the not-so-brilliant ones.

I feel much the same way about Dupieux's follow-up feature, Wrong. The difference is that its strengths are strewn all over the place, as are its weaknesses. It's a more uneven film whose best ideas are generally disconnected from one another. In the case of Rubber, entire sequences, monologues and setpieces worked brilliantly; it just ran out of steam and was held back by later scenes that took the film's base ideas past the point of interest.

Wrong probably has about as much good material as its predecessor, but it feels like less. It rarely gathers the same momentum. But boy, Dupieux can sure paint a gloriously absurd picture. A midtown office where it's always raining, indoors, while it's bright and sunny outside. A man who steals dogs in order to reinvigorate other people's love for their own pets. A woman who sleeps with two men and quite sincerely believes them to be the same person, only casually remarking in one conversation that he looks a little different from last time. A neighbor who regularly jogs around the neighborhood but, when confronted with that fact, angrily insists that he never jogs, and in fact hates jogging. These are the people and situations that populate a Dupieux film.

If nothing else, Wrong is another singularly unique picture with utter commitment to its absurdist perspective, and I can't help but admire that. A friend of mine (and fellow critic) told me he liked the film better the second time he saw it. Me, I'm only judging based on a single viewing, but if I'm being honest with myself, it certainly wouldn't surprise me if the second time around was better for me, too.

But for now, that's neither here nor there.

The film revolves around the search for the lost dog of a thoroughly mediocre man named Dolph (Jack Plotnick). The search for his dog is, naturally, a search for himself, and if anyone needs to get a handle on his own identity, it's Dolph. Every day he drives across town to the job at which he has been fired, and sits there, pretending to work, at his old desk, in the rain. On the morning his dog disappears, he receives a brochure from a new pizza joint and proceeds to give the place a call - not to order a pizza, but to argue and complain about the logistics of the company's logo. (An insanely funny conversation, by the way.)

Quite against his will and without his knowledge, that phone call brings Dolph's identity into question as well. When Emma (Alexis Dziena), the pizza-parlor employee who took his call, falls in love with him over the course of their brief phone conversation, she immediately makes her way to Dolph's home, only to instead encounter his gardener Victor (Eric Judor), who proceeds to co-opt Dolph's identity for a free pizza and a roll in the hay. Without him even knowing it, Dolph's life has changed, and he hardly had anything to do with it.

Meanwhile, the jogging neighbor jumps in his car that morning and takes off out into the middle of nowhere, driving and driving into a big white nothing in pursuit of his own existential purpose. Oh, and I haven't even mentioned the great performance of William Fichtner, the dog-napping self-help guru who speaks like a wise Asian man but isn't. So yeah.

It seems counterintuitive to say that Wrong doesn't congeal or hang together, because that's usually a description reserved for movies built on traditional narrative structure and logic. This movie is decidedly not that. In this case, the film displays an inability to make all its fantastically absurd/surreal/oddball ideas add up to more than the sum of their parts. Maybe my friend is right and I'll warm up to it upon a second viewing. If I'm guilty of any major predispositions in cinema, it's toward absurdism and surrealism. So if something as fully committed to both, and intermittently effective in both areas, as this film is can't grab me, surely something must be, well, wrong.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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