[This is a re-post of my review from the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Wrong opens today in limited release.]
In 2010, Quentin Dupieux‘s Rubber hit the screen to critical acclaim. The acclaim was mostly along the lines of “The best killer tire movie you’ll ever see.” Despite its odd-ball premise and protagonist, Rubber did seem to have cohesive subtext about criticizing the audience and purposely messing with their expectations. By contrast, Dupieux’s new movie, Wrong, is all killer tire and hardly anything to say. That’s doesn’t make it a bad flick. Strangeness along the lines of a killer tire can still be pretty funny, and Wrong‘s off-kilter reality offers plenty of laughs. It’s just too silly and devoted to strangeness to make any exploration of a convoluted subtext worth considering.
Somewhere in all the bizarre behavior is a comprehensible plot. Dolph (Jack Plotnick) has lost his dog Paul and is desperate to find him. That’s about as tethered as the movie gets to our reality. Around this understandable and real situation is a debate over a pizza company’s logo, a palm tree that has morphed into a pine tree, a neighbor (Regan Burns) who is driving to the ends of the Earth, an office that’s always raining on the inside, dog telepathy, and much more. The movie makes no attempt to explain these odd phenomena nor do any of the characters consider it bizarre. Only Dolph takes exception to certain aspects, so a guy who works out of a raining office and can communicate telepathically with his dog is the closest anchor we have to reality.
Or at least our reality. Dupieux has basically created an alternate universe where oddball characters exist, and rarely will anyone question another person’s behavior. The central idea is that everything we do would probably seem strange to the people in the movie, and if that’s the case, why do we consider their actions to be “wrong”? The presentation is matter-of-fact, but that only serves to make the movie more hilarious. How can we take a point seriously when Master Chang (William Fichtner)—an enigmatic figure who wants to make owners love their pets more—talks about how he burned off half his face with acid on a dare and how that made him appreciate his face more.
Speeches like these and the commitment every actor gives to this off-kilter universe make the film work wonderfully. No one gets furious when a car is repainted without their permission. No one bats an eye when rain pours into their office every single day. Everyone in the cast does a great job, but Fichtner blows them all away. Employing a heavy European accent and dressing in Eastern garb, his dialogue and delivery is superb. It’s another amazing performance from one of the best character actors working today.
The pervasive silliness of Wrong prevents it from going any deeper than its twisted sense of humor. It’s not quirky, it’s not twee, and it’s not dark. It’s for people who loved the killer tire in Rubber and didn’t want anything more. There could be something worthwhile buried beneath Wrong‘s goofy humor, but the film comes off as too slight to warrant the mental energy of trying to piece together a deeper meaning (if one even exists). The best you can do with Wrong is to laugh, shrug your shoulders, shake your head in frustration, and say, “Sure. Why not.”