Toronto After Dark, Day 8: Wrong
A fireman opens up his newspaper in the middle of the street, and squats down to take a dump while a van is consumed by flame mere metres away. His compatriots laze idly by the truck, watching the sunrise. Is this incongruous event a meaningful observation on existence, or simply an excuse for comedic absurdity? That is a question I found myself asking frequently while watching Wrong, the latest feature film from surrealist French director Quentin Dupieux.
Wrong is a zany and often farcical comedy woven together with a number of outlandish threads, each permeated with a unifying sense of wrongness about them. A clock strikes 7:60am, a palm tree is suddenly replaced with a pine tree, and people go to work inside an office where it never stops raining, without complaint.
The main thread of the plot focuses on Dolph, who awakes one morning to find his dog has gone missing. Going outside to look for him, he encounters his neighbour, who berates him for his attire, explains that he is in the midst of an existential crisis, and drives off in his car to go find himself. Desperate to take his mind off of his lost dog, Dolph then rings up the local pizza parlour and has an involved conversation with the girl on the other end regarding the nonsensical nature of the business’ logo. And so it goes, each scene in the film taking a normally mundane interaction with life and turning it into the sublimely odd.
There are two messages that Wrong is trying to convey. The first and most obvious, the motivating force of the main plot, is that of not appreciating what we have until we no longer have it. Whether it is a dog or a palm tree, the things we become accustomed to are dear to us, and cannot simply be replaced by similar things. The other message present throughout is that reality is whatever we accept it to be. Everything else seems to amount to simple absurdity for the sake of comedy, such as a cop who lays out his lines of thought in detail regarding his offhandedly mean remarks, or cynical observations on the banality of everyday life.
The force holding this film together is Jack Plotnick as Dolph, who stumbles his way from situation to situation with a sense of bewildered desperation. His life is unwinding around him, and we understand how much he needs the sort of anchor that his palm tree represented. Also delightful is William Fitchner as Master Chang, an author of books on telepathically communicating with your pet, who contacts Dolph with possible information on his missing animal.
The problem with Wrong is not in its approach, but in its lack of focus. By combining the substantial with the extremely silly in equal parts, we are forced to take a careful look at everything that happens, and spend an exhausting amount of effort to find that often nothing is there. While Wrong is often absurdly and deliriously funny, there is also a slightness to it, a lack of substance brought about by one too many bits of randomness.
I enjoyed the trip through Dupieux’s strange and quirky world, full of unexpected delights, but found myself wishing it felt more like a complete meal, and not just dessert. 3 out of 5 stars.