Friday, March 29, 2013

IT DON'T WANNA BE RIGHT

Casually, reading a newspaper, a firefighter squats to defecate in the middle of the road. Other firefighters lounge on the fire truck behind him, paying no evident attention to a van that sits nearby, engulfed in flames.



From here we cut to the bedroom of our hero Dolph Springer (Jack Plotnick). His alarm clock reads 7:59. When it flips, it reads 7:60. Dolph, an everyman type living in a pleasant house in what appears to be suburban L.A., wakes up to find his dog missing.

In short, Quentin Dupieux’s new film Wrong, opening today at Tempe’s Valley Art, comes by its title honestly.

The principal character of Dupieux’s 2010 film Rubber was a rubber tire. Dazzlingly and mysteriously as that tire was endowed with personality—it was Rubber’s true achievement as a movie—simply by virtue of having a human being at its hero, Wrong is a bit more accessible. As the baffled, wheedling Dolph, Plotnick is unsentimentally sympathetic.

Dolph calls a pizza shop whose flyer he has received, not to order a pizza but to complain about the aesthetics of the logo. His landscaper (Eric Judor) points out to him that a palm tree in his back yard has inexplicably turned into a pine tree. There’s a torrential downpour, indoors, at the office from which Dolph was recently fired—but to which he keeps returning and pretending to work—and no one seems to find this odd.

Witty as many of these dream-logic gags are, I must admit that the first half-hour or so of Wrong made me fidget. I doubted that this sort of glib surrealism could sustain my interest in the movie at feature length. But as it progresses, and we learn that Paul the Dog was abducted on the orders of the scarred, accented Master Chang (William Fichtner)—whose organization kidnaps pets so that the owners will fully realize their value when they get them back—Wrong picks up steam. Though it lacks the magic of the living tire, overall it’s a much more lucid and well-structured piece of work than Rubber.


It’s also much funnier. The waiflike waitress (Alexis Dziena) is so impressed by Dolph’s critique of the pizza shop logo that she ends up his starry-eyed new girlfriend. When she moved in, uninvited, and started chatting Dolph up just as he was trying to establish telepathic communication with his dog, Wrong started to make me laugh out loud.

There’s a violent touch toward the end I could have done without, but on the whole Wrong is a successful addition to that small genre of contemporary absurdist comedies like Being John Malkovich and Cold Souls. Still, it’s worth noting that most of the film’s dramatic tension—the element which makes the atmosphere feel so wrong—is our worry over whether Dolph will ever find Paul. This supposedly unconventional movie is powered by a theme that goes back at least as far Lassie Come Home—that of a boy and his dog.

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