It doesn’t matter what side of the bed you wake up on when the alarm clock gets you up at 7:60 every morning. In Quentin Dupieux’s Wrong, everything in the main character Dolph Springer’s world is just that, and further a bizzare journey into the absurd. At nearly every corner of this dreamlike film there is a story line and likable characters somewhat reminiscent of the very off-kilter nature of Wristcutters: A Love Story and Dog Tooth topped off with Terry Gilliam’s surreal shooting style and sense of humor. Wrong is more than a bit askew but also funny, easily more accessible than Dupieux’s Rubber and is best described as being an odd delight.
There’s an aloofness and complacency to the absurdity that tries to pass the whole story off as a banal walk in the park. Dolph (Jack Plotnick) is the every man surrogate who is very much part of this world but still, sometimes, gets weirded out (as would we) by the events and its inhabitants who are just a tad left-of-center. Like Rod Serling’s introductions in the Twilight Zone the calm but bizarre credit sequence sets up Dupieux’s film quite well. Things that you’d expect to see just don’t happen; like firemen actually putting out fires. Instead they stand around as if waiting they’re waiting for a bus or trying to get a tan. Everything else you see, or will see, is not simply weird or strange, it’s wrong.
There is some semblance of normalcy, or things we can relate to, but when the oddities make themselves known they stand out like a third arm. Jack Plotnick is perfect in the role and his childlike demeanor is endearing. Dolph goes along with everything even if he’s not comfortable with it all but additionally he feels so lost and alienated, and lives there. If you saw Rubber you know how “out there” and surreal Dupieux can be. While filmmakers strive to conceive and capture something weird, eccentric or esoteric it doesn’t seem hard for Dupieux. With Wrong it’s possible that Quentin is just being Quentin; the skewed story, character, perspective, et al, it feels too fluid not to be natural. There’s a fine line between “normal” and “wrong” and Dupieux walks it effortlessly.
What sets Dolph’s life into turmoil is the loss of his dog. Only his dog is not lost, it was stolen by the eccentric recluse Master Chang (played brilliantly by William Fichtner). However it’s not mischievous or for malevolent reasons. No, he kidnaps pets so the owner has a chance to realize how much their pets mean to them. The entire concept of Wrong is like if you asked any 2nd grader to tell you a story or draw a picture of what a normal day might be like on another planet and further what problem a person living on that planet might have. Offices where it rains inside, dog detectives, people who go around unknowingly painting your car in the parking lot, it’s all here and oddly enough works because Dupieux has a good rhythm to everything.
But no number of oddities or screwball people will keep Dolph from being reunited with his dog Paul. About the only thing you won’t, like a dog, tilt your head at out of confusion is the look of the film itself. It’s simple but everything looks so pretty, cheerful even. It’s an ideal suburbia that is gorgeously shot and despite the abundant oddities seems like a nice place to live. Also, seaming these beautifully surreal scenes and events together is an 80’s era score by Tahiti Boy and Mr. Oizo that is as subtly eclectic as Dolph and the characters of this world. The music keeps the film somewhat grounded and when the finale starts to become a bad acid trip, it helps Dupieux land and stick the cheery but nonsensical ending. Like the best alarm clock in the world, the music, specifically the excellent track ‘Resolution‘ (which you can download for free from the Drafthouse Films website), will wake you up and you’ll leave the theater grooving, perhaps even humming the catchy tune, while you scratch your head trying to figure out what the hell you just watched.
The weird starts to gets normal for a while until Dupiex tries to throw us a curve ball in the last 15 minutes which is like Fellini (or David Lynch) took the steering wheel on the last leg of this off the map road trip. It doesn’t make sense and seems like a dream within a dream. Really it’s a bump in the road as opposed to full on detour. Better it can be likened to falling asleep at the wheel and waking up suddenly only to find this happy ending that we didn’t realize we and Dolph were headed toward. Sure it’s as Master Chang foretold but since we couldn’t trust anything we were seeing how could we know this is really happening? Anyway that’s getting too deep, like trying to decode Primer, so be content to experience this plunge into the surreal but only go in ankle deep.
The only real issue with Wrong, more of a minor quibble actually, is that it feels forcibly resolved and doesn’t finish as strongly or as compellingly as when it started. Wrong gets up to speed and then puts it on cruise control, but that’s not really a bad thing. You don’t want to drive too through Wrong or you’ll chance missing the oddly intriguing scenery and story. So soak up everything you can, especially William Fichtner who really has never been better. His performance, all too brief sadly, as Master Chang is so odd and amazing you just can’t take your eyes off him. Fichtner kills the role of the reserved Master Chang and steals every scene. He’s so much fun you kind of wish Dupieux would make a third film about his character that somehow bridges this and Rubber; whatever excuse it takes to get Fichtner to play the role again…hey, like a murderous tire, it’s crazy enough to happen.