A beautiful vision of absurdist cinema
I would love to see a staged version of a Quentin Dupieux film. His work is so clearly a part of the absurdist theater that Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco made famous that it hurts a little bit. I haven't seen all of his earlier films (though his first effort, Nonfilm, sounds like a re-imagining of Christopher Durang's play The Actor's Nightmare, so I suspect this holds true), but they seem like they would translate to the stage so imperfectly that the most fundamental vision of absurdism would shine through even more brilliantly.
Whether on stage or on film, Wrong is a nearly perfect execution of that vision.
Wrong exists in a world where a clock doesn't turn from 7:59 to 8:00. It turns from 7:59 to 7:60. At 7:60 every morning, Dolph Springer (Jack Plotnick) gets out of bed and goes about his day. Unfortunately, the film starts on a less-than-normal (which, in Dupieux's world, is very strange indeed) day, when Dolph finds out that his dog, Paul, is missing. From there, Dolph goes about his regular life for the most part, although increasingly strange things keep happening to him as he worries about the location of his dog. This isn't a mystery film, though; Dolph doesn't go on a wild goose chase. Other people do that for him, their efforts almost entirely off-screen. While Paul's disappearance is Dolph's driving force, it is not the film's entire focus. Dolph's gardener, Victor, does what he does because it's his job, and Emma, who answers the phone for Jesus' Organic Pizza, is completely clueless about Paul's situation. This broadening of characters goes a long way towards fleshing out Wrong's bizzare world.
Going into Wrong, I knew only that it was made by the team behind Rubber. Rubber was a fascinating film, and it brought to life a lot of the absurdist ideals that seem to typify Dupieux's work, but it wasn't able to fully deliver on its promise. The excitement of the film's ridiculousness eventually gave way to boredom, and it wasn't that type of boredom that certain absurdist works use for dramatic effect. The concept just ran out of steam, and the rubber tire with the ability to blow things up with its mind stopped being interesting. There's just something about watching an actual tire for 80something minutes that doesn't work.
Imagine the stage performance of Rubber, where a man is either bound up or dressed as a tire, or maybe he is just a naked man with the word "Tire" painted on his chest. He doesn't have dialogue, but he is interesting to watch. Then there's the voyeuristic nature of the story, which utilized an in-film audience watching the events unfold, that would be made all the more intense in the confines of a theater. This would be heightened or diminished depending on the staging of that group: they could sit on the stage, using binoculars to watch the real audience as they watch the show; or the production audience could sit out in the house seats, throwing around dialogue and actions across the theater, either interacting with or completely ignoring everyone else. There are numerous possibilities, each which could give the play a unique and interesting feel. That the narrative audience spends much of the story dead would just make it moreso, and it would be a fantastic challenge for those involved. Having "corpses" littered throughout the theater and on the theater-going patrons would be a sight to see.
These gimmicks are the reason Rubber: The Play, done properly, would almost certainly be more worthwhile than Rubber the film. Wrong: The Play feels less necessary. So many things are happening and so many narrative threads are open (not all of which are closed) that it's difficult to get bored. Once a scene hits its peak, Wrong moves onto something else, keeping a sense of pacing that is honestly kind of incredible given the style of the film. It's difficult to keep things from dragging when almost nothing makes sense, but, unlike Rubber (which opens with that cute-but-obnoxious monologue about "no reason"), it never gets lost in its pretensions. Even though its logic is distorted and disturbed, Wrong is not actually that hard to follow on its most fundamental level. Each character has pretty clear motivations, and there are no weird character twists that attempt to unseat everything you thought you knew. There is something that does upset the narrative a bit, but after brooding for a while, I realized it really didn't matter. This is absurdism; weird things happen, and they happen for (as much as I hate to say it) no reason.
Part of what makes Wrong so invigorating is that it convinced me that Quentin Dupieux is a modern day auteur. There's just something about it that screams Quentin Dupieux. Even if I hadn't know that the man behind Rubber had directed, written, shot, and edited Wrong, I would have realized it immediately. It's just got the same feel, but that feel has clearly matured in the last few years. Wrong is an evolution in Dupieux's absurdist vision, and I was ecstatic to see that. It feels somewhat uncomfortable to keep talking about Rubber, but it's kind of a necessity. When something is as strange as this, it's nice to have something to compare it to. I can't describe how absolutely crazy Wrong is without heavy spoilers, and I want everyone to experience it as freshly as possible. So I try to compare it, but while I can discuss theater for however long, the more organic nature of the stage means that name-dropping The Bald Soprano would only mean so much, even to those who know the play (note that I am not comparing Wrong to The Bald Soprano). So I have to talk about Rubber, because it is the only film I can think of that Wrong is like.
But, as I think you've realized, Wrong is so much better than Rubber. Wrong is everything that Rubber should have been and then some. In fact, Wrong is everything that an absurdist film should be. I would love to see it on the stage, just to have the experience, but it really is a brilliant piece of cinema. It's an evolution of so many ideas that have come before it, but it's unlike anything I have ever experienced. I'm looking forward to seeing it again. I want to know what I missed the first time around. I'll be seeing it with friends that time, because no matter how much I annoy them about how incredible it is, it really has to be seen to be believed.
And you should see it. You really, really should.
[This review was originally posted while Wrong was exclusively available On Demand. It is being reposted to coincide with the film's theatrical release. More information can be found here.]