Movie Review: Wrong
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman
The opening shot of French director Quentin Dupieux’s “Wrong” shows a slate-blue slab of concrete bifurcated by a long, jagged crack.
The image serves as a fitting metaphor for the state of mind of Dolph Springer (Jack Plotnick). His bedside clock flips from 7:59 a.m. to 7:60. When he gets out of bed, he wanders through his house looking for his dog, Paul. Unable to locate his pet, he heads across the street to ask his weird neighbor of the dog’s whereabouts and is met with an oddly hostile response.
As panic begins to settle in, Dolph distracts himself with an absurd phone conversation with a pizza delivery phone operator (Alexis Dziena), with whom he ponders the nature of the pizza company’s motorbike-riding rabbit logo. Dolph’s life is as fractured as that concrete.
If this all sounds a bit odd, that’s because it is. With intention and relish. Dupieux last confounded and entertained audiences with his meta-thriller “Rubber,” which toyed with the conventions of horror films to tell the story of a homicidal tire. You read that correctly.
The tone of “Wrong” is more dreamlike than horrifying — witness the out-of-focus foreground characters and washed-out palette of pastels — though the electronic beeps and boops and staccato metallic bowing sounds from a soundtrack composed in part by Dupieux do lend a sense of foreboding.
Dismayed by the disappearance of his pet, Dolph heads to his office for a respite. His workplace is a soaked mess, with sprinklers pouring onto the desks, computers and heads of Dolph and his co-workers, who all eye him with suspicion and condescension. That’s because Dolph was laid off weeks ago. He holds onto his old job with the same slippery grip with which he grasps at his sanity and his missing pet.
As the pieces begin to bind in this slowly shifting puzzle, it becomes clear that Dolph’s entire life is a tenuous mess bordering on calamity. The loss of Paul seems to be the last straw, and run-ins with his gardener Victor (Éric Judor), who dies and then is reanimated, aren’t helping Dolph’s state of mind.
A clue to Paul’s whereabouts finally arrives with a cryptic phone call giving Dolph directions for a rendezvous. Led to a deserted road, Dolph meets Master Chang (William Fichtner), a bizarre, soft-talking animal guru with a braided ponytail, disfigured face and accent that somehow has one foot in Austria and one in Japan. Chang, author of books such as “My Life, My Dog, My Strength,” runs an operation that helps pet owners find a new appreciation for their animals by stealing the pets and then reuniting them with their owners.
After years of success, Chang’s crew has hit a skid. Yes, they stole Paul. No, they don’t know where he is. But Chang promises Dolph that, through the power of telepathy, he can reconnect with his dog. Chang offers the assistance of a dim-witted detective (Steve Little from “Eastbound and Down”) who ends up being as much a nuisance as a help. Just like everything in Dolph’s life.
Armed with the psychic bread-crumb-tracking powers of Master Chang, Dolph embarks on a desperate attempt to contact Paul, while enduring interruptions and distractions from the obsessive pizza shop worker and indifferent cops who serve as a reminder to Dolph that the world is not fair and owes him no explanations.
Plotnick (who played a recurring character on “Reno 911”) plays the tormented Dolph with a touching ache and confusion, best illustrated by his expressive eyebrows. You can see the worry and pain lurking behind his (fittingly) puppy-dog eyes, and each of the offbeat characters he encounters serve to heighten his anxiety and frustration. Though his accent distracts at times, Fichtner’s Master Chang makes for a comical foil to Dolph, whose life seems foiled at every turn.
Dupieux displayed a compelling sense of imagination with the fantastically weird “Rubber,” and “Wrong” adds to the sense of possibility for the writer-director-cinematographer-editor-musician. Much like a dream, “Wrong” often makes very little sense, and speaks in vague metaphor. The story wanders at times and includes interludes that feel like non sequiturs even for a movie hinged on such absurdities, but Dupieux, with the help of Plotnick, has created a unique world of soft chaos and goofy humor.