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Reality (2014)
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by Jay Seaver

"Dupieux's stuff is still wrong and oh so right."
4 stars

A sad thing about how peculiar movies like those made by Quentin Dupieux are likely to be more readily available to a larger audience via the various on-demand services is that I'm certain that, at some point while making this film, he smiled upon imagining people going to a cinema box office and asking for "a ticket to reality". Or "un billet à réalité", since he's French. I suppose selecting "Reality" from a set-top box's menu works too, although it's not the same as saying it out loud. Either way, you'll wind up with something else entirely, as entertaining and odd as his previous features.

"Reality", in this case, is a girl of about ten (Kyla Kenedy), who is very curious about the VHS tapes she saw come out of the stomach of a goat her father was butchering. That's not the whole of the movie, of course - over in Los Angeles, Jason Tantra (Alain Chabat) is a cameraman for a talk show hosted by a man in a rat costume (Jon Heder), although he aims to make a film of his own. Producer and fellow French expatriate Bob Marshall (Jonathan Lambert) would produce, although he becomes very fixated on the sound people will make when dying, giving Jason forty-eight hours to find the perfect scream in order to secure funding. He's also frustrated by the work of Zog (John Glover), usually a director of documentaries who is approaching his current film about a little girl named Reality in a similarly verité manner.

If you are expecting a simple film-within-a-film, you probably haven't seen Rubber in a while. This time around, Dupieux aims less to break the fourth wall than to take the whole lot out and replace them with a Moebius strip. Some viewers will play close attention, hoping to find patterns which indicate what level of reality the characters are currently occupying, and maybe they will succeed. I suspect it's a fool's errand, though - there's a pretty good joke or two that suggests he's not all that impressed with movies that key on that sort of gimmick. It's naturally self-deprecating, an indication that he's out to have fun more than blow minds.

And he is out to have fun. As is his usual wont, he's building this movie out of as stay stream of little jokes that don't necessarily make a whole lot of sense, delivered in a manner so deadpan that "surreal" almost seems like too forceful a word; each bit is too small to make the viewer dizzy, and the cumulative effect is more about the joy of randomness than anything else. He spoofs easy targets like show business and psychotherapy, but even at their most bizarrely violent, Dupieux's jokes don't really seem mean or cutting. It's just weird out there, enough so that some of what's going on might not even be real.

This can be a tough kind of comedy to pull off, but he's got some funny people doing it well. Alain Chabat does the really nifty trick of playing a protagonist who, while put-upon at home and subject to a series of unreasonable requests, is just as peculiar as anybody around him. Jonathan Lambert's Bob Marshall is the source of many of those strange directives, and Lambert is brilliant in the part, giving him a precise, tiny-voiced way of speaking, moving, and changing his mind that gets big laughs for seemingly little effort. John Glover slots into Dupieux's world perfectly, better than Jon Heder does (among the people American moviegoers will recognize), while √Člodie Bouchez makes an odd pairing Chabat as the mild-mannered Jason's forceful therapist wife. It's maybe a little obvious to have the girl named "Reality" be the closest thing the film has to a voice of reason, but Kyla Kenedy really nails the confusion and disdain for the ridiculous adults around her.

Interestingly, there's almost no original music by Dupieux's alter ego Mr. Oizo in the film at all, with a couple of repeated (and repetitive) Philip Glass tracks seeming to emphasize the potentially circular nature of the movie as it goes from dream to reality to film. It may also be his glossiest film yet - although still often built around spaces with analog devices and slight anachronisms, they're a bit bigger and more upscale at times, with more elaborate and odd visual jokes. It still feels like a Dupieux film, but one he didn't have to make out of scraps.

An interesting thing about Dupieux is that, for all that he is reliable in his eccentricity, he is seldom strange in quite the same way twice. "Reality" is his weird ouroboros nesting-doll movie, and while it doesn't hit quite the absurd heights of "Rubber" and "Wrong", it's still strange and funny if you enjoy occasionally wondering what the heck you're watching.

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originally posted: 05/26/15 13:00:11
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Venice Film Festival For more in the 2014 Venice Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 AFI Fest For more in the 2014 AFI Fest series, click here.

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  DVD: 15-Sep-2015



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