Quentin Dupieux’s 2010 horror-parody Rubber begins with a character turning to the camera to deliver a lengthy philosophical speech about how in films, things often happen for no reason. The sequence is meant to soften viewers for the surreal nonsense that follows, as an automobile tire roams the desert, killing animals and people with its psychic powers, while an audience uses binoculars to observe it from afar. It’s a Dada daydream of a movie, but no one who sits through it can complain that they weren’t warned up front.
Dupieux offers no such courtesy with his follow-up, Wrong, which applies the same detached, placid dream-logic to a more prosaic story. Jack Plotnick (Rubber’s put-upon accountant-figure) stars as a man who wakes up one morning to find his beloved dog Paul missing. Also, the palm tree in his back yard has become a pine tree. Water rains voluminously from the ceiling at all times in the office he stubbornly visits every day, although he was fired three months ago; no one comments on the never-ending one-room monsoon, though they all eye him suspiciously as he pretends to work. And everyone around him, from his gardener (Eric Judor) to the guy he rear-ends on the street, keeps delivering messages from the mysterious Master Chang (William Fichtner), who may be able to offer some assistance in Plotnick’s obsessive quest to recover Paul.
There’s a bit of The Big Lebowski in Wrong’s DNA, as a bemused but game man wanders through the city with a single, simple goal, encountering a string of oddball characters who take themselves more seriously than their comedic material warrants. Straight-faced sincerity dominates in Wrong, to the point where much of the runtime is devoted to nonsensical conversations undertaken with grave aplomb by both parties.
But a closer set of touchstones would be David Lynch by way of Todd Solondz. As Dupieux continues his things-happen-in-film-for-no-reason theme, the story starts to feel like a Lynchian nightmare, particularly when coitus leads to a declaration of pregnancy the next day, and the character goes into labor a few minutes later. Or when a character is suddenly declared dead and whisked away in an ambulance, only to return without comment later. But as with Rubber, the bright, sharp, sunny cinematography and wide-open static framing directly contradict Lynch’s style. And the emotionally uncomfortable, absurdist conversations taken at absolute face value recall Solondz’ Storytelling and Life During Wartime in particular.
In spite of the lack of linear cause and effect, Wrong is less arbitrary and silly than Rubber, and it centers more on human emotions and situations that are recognizable, albeit illogical. Still, if there’s a message here, it’s more abstract and opaque even than Rubber’s lightweight commentary on the voyeurism of watching film. But there’s a sly brilliance to the way Dupieux responds to audience expectation by repeatedly, pointedly violating Chekhov’s Law. And while Wrong doesn’t have much heft or momentum, it’s strikingly pretty. It’s easy for viewers to get caught up in its mild pleasures, if they can acknowledge, Dupieux-style, that they’re doing it for no reason.