Quentin Dupieux popped onto my scene with his beautifully peculiar tale of a killer tire, “Rubber.” That odd slice of meta-horror took its absurd premise to startling heights by using its protagonist (antagonist?) – a car tire – as a device to analyze the insignificance and absurdity of the thriller. Does the audience want thrills and murder and suspense? Fine, but what if the thrills and murder and suspense are provided by a sentient tire with the ability to explode things with its “mind”? Now, let me step back for a second and say that this is my reading of “Rubber”. You might have a very different interpretation of the film. Or you might have no interpretation of the film at all. You might find it to be a stupid movie about killer tire and that’s all. But that’s okay because that’s exactly what Dupieux is going for (I think). Art is absurd and when you present that absurdity for what it is, you end up with something that could be construed as meaninglessness. And for some, spending an hour or two on meaninglessness is frustrating. But if you embrace the fact that the very act of producing a film – writing, directing, acting, costuming, special effects, etc – is an absurdly absurd venture, it makes work like Dupieux’s go down easier.
But what if you point your absurdity detector at life itself? What if the meaninglessness of art extends to life? What if you break human existence – particularly “standard American” human existence (work, dog, house, marriage, baby) – down to its essential parts? What do you end up with? Is life a series of glorious, rain-soaked love making sessions, like we’re led to believe by mainstream Hollywood? Is it action packed? Is it exciting? Is it anything? “Absolutely” you might say. And that would be wonderful. But if you ask those same questions to Dolph, the main character in Dupieux’s newly-released film, “Wrong,” he might tell you otherwise. Actually, Dolph probably wouldn’t tell you anything. He’s just a dude who wants to find his dog. And that’s what “Wrong” is. A man and his dog. And that’s why I love it.
Jack Plotnick – the guy in the trunk from “Rubber” for those of you who’ve seen it – is Dolph Springer, a simple man with simple needs who’s teetering on the edge of collapse. Dolph wakes up one morning as the clock flips from 7:59 to 7:60 to discover his beloved dog, Paul is missing. This single act haphazardly plunges Dolph into a “Big Lebowski”-esque, shaggy dog mystery involving a mystical guru (played perfectly by the always reliable William Fichtner), a bizarre private investigator, a palm tree that transformed into pine tree, a whirlwind romance with a pizza restaurant employee, a very rude police officer, and more. A movie like “Wrong” is difficult to synopsize without overly simplifying the plot, while at the same time it’s difficult to not to make it sound like a collection of silly moments. “Wrong” is not a random assemblage of quirk, and if I told you that inside Dolph’s work office – from where he was recently fired, but still shows up and pretends to work – rain perpetually falls from the ceiling (except for in the boss’s office), you might think this film is an Adult Swim-styled assault of stoner comedy bits. And I suppose “Wrong” could be taken like that, but it would be doing a film this well-thought out a mighty disservice. “Wrong” is simply put, a stunningly intelligent piece of work, and should be thought of as nothing less.
The closest releative that I could think of for “Wrong” would be David Lynch’s masterpiece “Eraserhead.” And not becuase “Wrong” is a nightmare come to life – like Lynch’s film – it’s actually quite the opposite. “Eraserhead,” like “Wrong,” is an analysis of the insecurities experienced by a man teetering on the cusp of actual adulthood. In Lynch’s film, main character Henry’s life is a series of “whatjusthappeneds.” He’s at dinner with his girlfriend’s family eating something strange, he’s got a baby, the baby gets sick, and so on. The occurrences in “Wrong” mirror Henry’s plight. (Spolier alert*) he’s fired from his job, he loses his dog, he meets a woman, she moves in, she rearranges things, she’s pregnant, and so on. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t look at his or her current station in life and ask “whatjusthappened?”. But Dolph resists the life that’s thrust upon him. He just wants his dog. Nothing else matters to him. His everything hinges on Paul and if he doesn’t find him, Dolph’s world would surely implode. Now, what you pull from that message is completely up to you. I’m certain Dupieux has a goal in mind for this story, maybe even a moral. And I’ve drawn my conclusions. But just know that “Wrong” is what you want it to be. It’s message is maleable, and I hope every viewer finds something heartening in the film, just as I have.
The only fault I find with “Wrong” – though it’s not entirely fair to call this a fault – is its accessibility. The very nature of “Rubber’s” plot made it an obstacle course for the mainstream viewer. “Wrong” is actually pretty straightforward – save for a baffling moment just before the end**. It will be utterly puzzling and frustrating for some. Some will think it’s a horrible waste of time. Some will be left cold by its controlled and delibrate nature. But others will savor the absurd, revel in the strange, and be thankful that the world is still producing filmmakers like Quentin Dupieux. Filmmakers who are willing to release a piece of work like “Wrong.” A film so unorthodox, so odd, so potentially infuriating, yet so particular in its embrace of the beautifully absurd. What’s “Wrong”? It’s what you need it to be.
“Wrong” is now available On Demand and will be in theaters on March 25. Watch the trailer below and head over to the official site from Drafthouse Films to find out more.
*It doesn’t matter.
** Call me and we’ll talk about this.