Dolph Springer (Jack Plotnick) is as regular a guy. He goes to work everyday, at an office from which he was fired months before and where it rains indoors all day. He has a best friend who is moving away in order to drive to the edge of the world. One morning Dolph wakes up to find his dog is missing. To distract himself from the anxiety, he calls a new pizza place and inquires at length about the metaphoric accuracy of the logo. It’s about this time that his gardener informs him that the tree in his backyard has impishly transformed itself from a palm tree to an evergreen. Soon after that, he meets Master Chang, a spiritual and self-help guru who believes in pet telepathy.
Tired old story, right? Wrong! However, anyone who has seen Rubber knows this is par for the course when it comes to Quentin Dupieux. His films are experiments in unbridled absurdity. The man crafted an entire film around the conceit of a sentient tire who kills people via telepathy. As if that weren’t enough weird for one movie, he also created a bizarre Greek chorus that both observed and commented on the actions of said tire; breaking the fourth wall at will and lending a self-aware vibe to the insanity. Obviously, this kind of abandon of traditional narrative, as well as all semblance of logic, is a recipe for a limited fanbase. Understandably, Dupieux is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I loving gulped down Rubber and went back for seconds here at Fantasia. Wrong, however, proved much harder to swallow.
My principle beef with Wrong is the specific way in which Dupieux uses absurdity. Using Rubber once again as an exemplar, once you introduce the idea that a tire can move and think on its own, you’ve established that the world of the movie is pure fantasy. Even though that tire ventures into our more recognizable universe, there’s an appropriate distance created that allows the absurdity to be a commentary on the farce of everyday life without actually taking place there. Wrong on the other hand is set in a much more realistic version of the real world, and all the absurdity seems solely constructed to torture one individual. Dupieux weaponizes random weirdness against an undeserving schlub in a way that feels cold, cruel, and ultimately keeps the audience at arms length. It’s like watching Tom Stoppard weave the tale of Job. I will happily concede that the ending offers a warm measure of restitution, but if I’m watching something absurd, I’d rather it be truly outlandish and didn’t remind me so poignantly of how the real world is an arbitrary collection of uncaring circumstances.
Even within the highly subjective medium of film criticism, this gripe is especially rooted in my own personality and worldview, so feel free to take this particular critique with a grain of salt. Ultimately however, this was the principle difference I observed between Rubber and Wrong that explained why one worked for me and the other did not.
The other issue with Wrong is that the female lead is ultimately entirely worthless to the story. Alexis Dziena, as the spunky and hopelessly loony Emma, enters the story with fitting strangeness and with a great deal of promise. She is the pizza parlor phone operator who is intellectually and, somehow, sexually stimulated by her conversation with Dolph in which they dissect the company’s flawed logo. At first, though she adds further complication to Dolph’s intensely bad day, there is something lovable about her madness. However, she quickly becomes relegated to a nonsensical – and not in this director’s typical good way – subplot that less demonstrates the overall commitment to ridiculousness as it does point out weakness in Dupieux’s script. You could have lost this character entirely and the effect on the film would be minimal.
Wrong’s strongest attribute, by a country-fried mile, is William Fichtner. True though it may be (read: totally is) that I am a longtime fan of this phenomenal character actor, his gleefully unhinged performance here is a revelation. Fichtner plays Master Chang, because why not? His odd accent choice, his warped mysticism, and his comically uncomfortable self-assurance culminate into one of the most hysterically off-beat characters in recent memory. I may take exception to much of Dupieux’s script and his overall approach to the material, but I would gladly watch Wrong again if only to bask in the delightful kookiness of Mr. Fichtner.