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film review

Jack Plotnick in Wrong

Quentin Dupieux's Wrong unfolds in a realm somewhere between The Far Side and The Twilight Zone – the sort of place where the clocks read "7:60" and it's impossible to order a pizza without deconstructing the restaurant's logo with the chipper operator on the other end of the phone. It's a region where writer-director Quentin Dupieux – a.k.a. Mr. Oizo, the electronic-music maestro behind such esoteric albums as Analog Worms Attack and Lambs Anger – feels quite at home, and while Wrong has been conceived primarily as a series of alienation effects, there's also something familiar about it, as if it were a B-side to Dupieux's previous feature, the killer-tire farce Rubber (2009).

The two movies are linked by an interest in telekinesis. Rubber's oblong, inanimate protagonist demonstrated an inexplicable, Carrie White-like ability to make a tin can, a rabbit and a crow explode simply by vibrating in their general direction. The mind games in Wrong are less violent. Crestfallen at the disappearance of his beloved dog Paul, cow-licked suburban drone Dolph (Jack Plotnick) is informed by a mysterious stranger (William Fichtner) that his best bet toward finding the pup is to establish a telepathic link – a process discussed in some detail in his book "My Dog, My Life, My Strength."

To the extent that Wrong has a plot, it concerns Dolph's attempts to make contact with Paul, as well as to locate him by (slightly) more conventional means. He's aided by an accountably swaggering pet detective (Steve Little) and hampered by basically everybody else he meets, from his helpful but ineffectual gardener (Eric Judor) to the aforementioned pizza-parlor cashier (Alexis Dziena), who inexplicably decides that she has fallen in love with Dolph based on the sound of his voice. At no point do these supporting characters betray any awareness that anything weird is going on, and even Dolph, for all his perplexity about Paul's whereabouts seems resigned to certain aspects of his bizarre existence. When he gets soaked to the bone by a downpour localized entirely within the vicinity of his office, it's taken as a matter of course, less an ecological oddity than a minor occupational hazard.

Absurdism is at once the easiest and trickiest of comic genres. It's simple to pile up visual and dramatic non-sequiturs, but extremely difficult – and arguably counter-intuitive – to make them mean anything. Rubber annotated its gamesmanship by having its characters explain directly to the audience that the movie around them was an "homage to 'no reason'" – the dramaturgical equivalent of a get-out-of-jail-free card. And since its protagonist wasn't a human being but a mute, rampaging tire, the detached, sarcastic attitude worked fine. But Wrong is about a depressed man trying to find the one source of joy in his life, and so Dupieux cuts back on the explicit mockery and strikes a more mournfully existential tone, as if the sudden realization of one's isolation and loneliness could throw the entire world a few jarring degrees out of joint.

Truth be told, Wrong isn't as funny as Rubber, which played kamikaze games with horror-movie tropes. The tone here is flatter and more meandering, and more than a few of Dupieux's digressions feel like dead ends. At the same time, there's a winning confidence to the filmmaking, which is deceptively stylish – Dupieux favours nervy close-ups and blurred foregrounds – and some real soul in Plotnick's performance. It's interesting that a movie so stridently focused on subverting onscreen norms succeeds via the oldest trick in the book – by separating a character from his four-legged best friend and getting us to pull for a happy reunion. It worked for Lassie and Wendy and Lucy, and it works here, too.

Special to The Globe and Mail