When Dolph walks into his office, it’s raining. Inside the office, that is. Outside, the sky is clear and sunny, but inside there’s a steady downpour splashing on the desks—soaking the computers, paperwork and personnel. No one, Dolph included, acts as if this is unusual. It is simply another day in the office.
This wet setting is one of the most inspired moments in Quentin Dupieux’s Wrong, which pits a mundane life against the unstoppable force of droll surrealism. The film continually finds new ways to inspire delight and aggravation, although the ratio between those two feelings will vary greatly depending on the viewer’s love or tolerance of the weird. Those willing to accept the movie on its terms will find a flawed but individual work of madcap fun.
The comedy generates more grins than laughs as writer/director Dupieux invents new ways to torment his hero. Dolph (Jack Plotnick) wakes up to find his dog, Paul, missing. He tries to take his mind off things by calling a pizza restaurant to complain about the logistical problems of its logo, which features a rabbit on a motorcycle, but that phone call only sets off another in a series of chain reactions that form a huge cosmic joke on Dolph.
The crux of Dolph’s character is his inability to accept change. He even continues to go to his rainy office three months after being fired. Wrong explores the need for normalcy by confronting Dolph with stressful changes. His dog’s disappearance is just the beginning. The palm tree in his backyard has turned into a pine tree. A serious romantic relationship arrives at his doorstep due to no effort or fault of his own.
Dupieux uses minimal camera movements and wide shots to maintain a deadpan tone. He allows the oddness to speak for itself and the humor to come through naturally. This is a film about the need for comfort, and the camera remains relaxed when the characters can’t.
The stand-out performance comes from William Fichtner as Master Chang, some sort of zen self-help pet guru who has information about the whereabouts of Dolph’s dog. Fichtner delivers his lines with strange rhythmic notes and an utterly ridiculous accent. Master Chang brings Dolph anguish with a cheerful disposition, positive intentions and amusingly faulty logic.
Like Dupieux’s previous film, Rubber—the self-reflexive tale of a killer tire—Wrong features wonderful moments of gleeful humor and mischievous absurdity, yet lacks shape and consistency. As the film goes on, it sometimes seems that its bent perspective becomes an excuse for lazy writing. “Well, it’s surreal anyway,” you can hear Dupieux saying to himself, “it’s not supposed to make sense!” (That may have also been the reasoning behind the tripod in the background inside Dolph’s house during the opening sequence.) In particular, scenes involving a dog detective played by Steve Little fall flat.
The anything-goes philosophy isn’t necessarily wrong, but each scene still needs to build toward a greater meditation on the film’s themes. The first 30 minutes, with the delicious phone conversation about the pizza restaurant’s logo and the introduction of Master Chang, whet the appetite for all the places that the film could go. As the conclusion nears, the mystique fades. This isn’t a long film, but it lacks propulsion at times. Luckily, it maintains its wry outlook and never quite erases the good will that its best moments inspire.
Director: Quentin Dupieux
Writer: Quentin Dupieux
Starring: Jack Plotnick, William Fichtner, Alexis Dziena, Steve Little, Eric Judor, Regan Burns
Release Date: Mar. 29, 2013