Faux-provocative ‘Wrong’ only serves to aggravate its audience
Directed by Quentin Dupieux
Written by Quentin Dupieux
The new film Wrong, from writer-director Quentin Dupieux, is less a movie and more a feature-length experiment in provocative trolling. If you find the film deliberately, obnoxiously unpleasant, well, you’re just a fuddy-duddy. You can’t accept the intentionally odd tone as being a charming bit of anti-comedy. Disliking the film is playing into Dupieux’s plan, it seems, which makes the whole project even more bothersome. Even leaving aside its awkward yet pushy attitude, Wrong is perilously close to being a parody of an experimental, faux-Lynchian arthouse film, full of elliptical, meaningless character motivations and dialogue, amounting to nothing.
Jack Slotnick plays Dolph, a shiftless man who wakes up one morning and discovers that his beloved dog, Paul, is missing. His neighbor Mike (Regan Burns), offers no help and seems more willing to get into a verbal confrontation with Dolph just because he can. When Dolph goes to work, we find out that he’s not really at work: he was fired a few months ago, despite going in every day and pretending to do something, to regain whatever purpose he used to have in life. As his search for Paul continues, Dolph runs afoul of a mysterious writer (William Fichtner) and gets ensnared in a dual-identity mismatch with his gardener, who’s ensconced with a clingy young housewife (Alexis Dziena).
Dupieux wallows in extremes from the first shot, of a fireman going to the bathroom on the sidewalk as a van burns behind him and his colleagues. Why is this shot in the movie? And why does Dolph have to explain himself to a detective (Steve Little) who apparently sees himself as a modern-day Indiana Jones based on his fashion choices? Why does Fichtner’s character have a ponytail and speak in a vaguely European accent, and why is his name Master Chang? Because there’s nothing more fun than challenging audience expectations, to upend their social values with this kind of faux-incendiary nonsense, at least to some filmmakers. There is no point to Wrong except to emphasize the pointlessness of the modern world.
And while there’s much to satirize about modern society, Wrong is half-hearted in every attempt. Dolph spends his days looking for some cohesive logic, and the world he inhabits refuses to oblige. Why does a local pizza parlor’s logo have a rabbit riding a motorcycle? Isn’t the rabbit fast enough to denote a speedy delivery? (This is an actual question that takes five minutes to figure out in the film.) Why won’t Mike admit that he jogs on an average basis, even though he does? These questions are made all the more maddening because Dupieux has no intention of answering; perhaps he’d say that’s because such questions have no answer, as the modern world poses these conundrums to us all the time, but it feels an awful lot like he just doesn’t want to, grinning instead at our collective puzzlement.
The actors are all game, in that they look confused at various points of Wrong with aplomb. Slotnick is perpetually confused as Dolph, his bafflement meant to echo that of the audience. Éric Judor, as Victor, Dolph’s gardener, is equally quizzical when trying to figure out why a pretty young woman would mistake him for Dolph and then leave her husband for him, or why a palm tree in Dolph’s backyard changed into a pine tree. (Why? Because, hey, why not?) Fichtner is one of a few bigger names in the film, along with Little, from HBO’s Eastbound and Down; on one hand, it’s slightly charming to watch such people goof off, but, oh, how nice it would be if their goofing off translated into genuine humor.
Wrong is many things, but its bad-boy attitude is forced and off-putting in unpleasant ways. This movie wants badly to question how our society works, hoping also to inspire us to ask the same questions its characters ask. Or maybe it just wants to be nihilistic and show us disgusting imagery—Little poring over a piece of dog crap comes to mind—simply because it can. Either way, Wrong is a singularly aggravating film, all the more so because this kind of reaction is exactly what Quentin Dupieux appears to be striving for. It’s most frustrating to feel this way, if only because Dupieux doesn’t deserve the satisfaction of a mass audience being so bothered by this shrugworthy art project of a movie.
— Josh Spiegel