Director: Quentin Dupieux
Stars: Alain Chabat, Jon Heder
3 (out of 5) Globes
Since his killer tire movie “Rubber,” DJ-turned-filmmaker Quentin Dupieux has maintained a cul-de-sac populated only by himself and the committed actors willing to follow him there. There’s a reason Eric Wareheim is one of his regulars; they share a yen for messing with viewers’ minds, or at least annoying them. No one is like Dupieux, which doesn’t mean he isn’t like anybody. With “Reality,” his fourth mind-bending feature, he’s found some nether region between Luis Bunuel and Luc Moullet, the oddballest of the French New Wave, whose comedies can sometimes be hilariously unfunny, though that doesn’t begin to describe what they’re really doing.
Indeed, the first half of “Reality” is hypnotic in its repetition of dumb/bad yuks (and partly thanks to the regular use of Philip Glass’ “Music with Changing Parts”). The film jumps between a series of seemingly not so connected plot threads that seem to be taking place in bright Los Angeles, even though half the cast speaks French, which also appears to be a gag. Jon Heder plays a boring cooking show host who finds that the garish rat costume he inexplicably wears on air is really, really making him itch. That’s the joke. Meanwhile, one of his cameramen (Alain Chabat) pitches an inane horror movie to an exec — something even dumber than a killer tire movie, involving TVs whose rays blow up heads, “Scanners”-style. The exec agrees, but only if Chabat can get a recording of a really good groan. Sometimes this exec watches footage from a director (John Glover) whose footage appears to be Warholian long takes of a little girl sleeping. There’s also Wareheim as a man who dreams of riding around in a jeep in a dress.
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Dupieux’s “Rubber” is actually a brilliant little movie that’s not about a killer tire at all but is a goofy, shape-shifting satire on movie watching. Subsequent films, like “Wrong,” have felt more like him dumping out bizarro ideas from notebooks. For a good, long while, “Reality” plays like him scraping the bottom of the barrel, offering up the last of his worst ideas. But he keeps hammering away at them to the point where the sheer repetition of having, say, an atypically agitated Jon Heder complain about his itchy rat costume starts to become a joke on its own. And then halfway through, Dupieux starts playing with the idea of dreaming. Suddenly characters can see other people’s dreams, while others start to appear in dreams, or threads we thought were real are revealed to maybe be dreams. Then characters start multiplying. One starts to suspect another is actually an alternate dimension version of them.
There’s so many layers of dreams and reality and fiction, but that doesn’t mean there’s a solution. In fact, it becomes quickly apparent there’s no way to solve this dense latticework of insanity; this isn’t “Primer,” where some enterprising egghead with too much free time can map out the intricacies of writer-director Shane Carruth’s time travel tangle. It’s intentionally unsolvable and meaningless. Every time the rug is pulled out from under this characters, and from the viewer, the actual rug-pulling itself is what’s supposed to give us a thrill, not the moment when we piece it all together — which we won’t, because it’s a jigsaw puzzle missing about ¾ of its pieces.
Dupieux has described “Reality” as “‘Dora the Explorer’ for adults,” which is to say that, like children’s programming, everything happens to give us little bursts of happiness, not to add up to a solid whole. What “Reality” is getting at, once its game plan can be seen, is similar to “Rubber,” in that it too is a commentary on watching whose structure quietly breaks down how we absorb art. At one point two plots are resolved with the same mindf— of a revelation — one that, even with a tiny bit of reflection, utterly unravels. It doesn’t matter; the character in the film whose mind has been f—ed applauds the mindf—ing, blown away by a climax that doesn’t even make sense but seems appropriately brazen and fake-deep. It’s a movie for and a critique of smart people who still like to turn their brains off.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge