Quentin Dupieux directs like David Lynch. On mushrooms. With a head injury. After reading a lot of Haruki Murakami. We promise we mean this in the best way possible, to both Dupieux and those struggling with traumatic brain injury. There are elements of the surrealist auteur’s work in the off-kilter comedy “Wrong,” from the sometimes dissonant, creepy score to the juxtaposition of the the mundane and the truly odd. But comparisons to the “Lost Highway” director aside, Dupieux is a filmmaker all his own, whose mind clearly works in ways that most others’ can’t or won’t. He embraces the weird with such glee and abandon, that it’s hard not to shrug your shoulders, smile and join the group hug.
The director’s previous effort “Rubber” was the barest, weirdest of ideas – a telekinetic tire on a murderous rampage – turned into a full-length film. While enjoyable for most of those who saw it, it often functioned better as a trailer or even just in concept, rather than as a 85-minute feature. For “Wrong,” Dupieux again serves as director, screenwriter, editor, and cinematographer, but in the years since, Dupieux has grown as a filmmaker. We wouldn’t argue that he approaches narrative from a textbook perspective like many of his peers, but he has developed a more cohesive story here, doing more than jumping from tire murder to tire murder (or its “Wrong” equivalent).
Jack Plotnick (“Reno 911“) stars as Dolph Springer, a man who panics when he realizes that his beloved dog Paul has disappeared. But Paul hasn’t merely run away; instead, he’s been kidnapped by Master Chang (a ponytailed William Fichtner, playing vaguely Asian and very strange), a guru who loves sharing the joy of reunion so much that he causes the separation in the first place. Before Dolph can see his pet again physically, he must connect with the animal metaphysically, a task that only Master Chang can help with. Unfortunately, Master Chang’s plan has gone awry and the dog really has disappeared, so he brings in expert help in the form of Detective Ronnie (Steve Little, “Eastbound & Down“) to help find Paul.
Boasting hair that nearly rises to Henry Spencer heights, Plotnick is wonderful at being alternately fine and exasperated with the bizarro world he’s living in (and occasionally creating himself). In Plotnick’s hands, Dolph doesn’t feel like he’s a part of an avant-garde experiment or like he’s in on the joke (and there are plenty of jokes); instead, he’s playing it straight, making “Wrong” all the more interesting for the viewers. He vaults from hilarious to heartbreaking, and while he’s ever serious, his background on “Reno 911” is certainly worth noting for its likely contribution to his ability to function amidst the entertaining chaos.
There are oddities both large and small throughout the film, ranging from a clock that changes from 7:59 to 7:60 to momentous ones that leave the audience in near-constant “WTF?” mode. “Wrong” may have its darker moments (tone is certainly an issue), but its director is playful and more than a little silly at times. He can be weird for weird’s sake, but we were still in awe, wondering, “Where did that come from?” It’s hard not to giggle at most everything you’re seeing, particularly when the strange is treated as normal. As cinematographer, Dupieux utilizes a naturalistic, often literally sunny approach, belying the film’s utterly surreal look at the world (or Dupieux’s version of it). However, his use of focus is often more distracting than effective.
The whole film feels a bit like a dream after a late-night burrito, leaving you wondering if moments in the film actually happened, particularly when mulling over it the next day. Did it really begin with a fireman taking a shit? (Yes.) Did a character die and then appear again without any comment? (Yes.) Was it really pouring inside that office building? (Yes.) Did we like it? (Yes.) [B]