I’m not sure what I expected from a satire about Hollywood made by a man who is most famous for 2010’s Rubber, a cult film about a murderous tire. I definitely didn’t expect it to call into question the fundamental nature of the universe, though considering its title, maybe I should have. Quentin Dupieux’s Reality is a bizarre comedy about thwarted expectations and the drive to create. Or maybe it’s a series of vignettes focusing on a cast of oddball characters, linked by only the loosest of narrative conceits. I laughed a lot, even as I was confounded by the nested loops of surreal transitions. Dreamlike and absurd, the movie’s entire world is an unreliable narrator, teaching you to never entirely trust anything you’ve been shown.
Geek favorites Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite) and Eric Wareham (Tim and Eric) deliver intriguing performances, but the best bits belong to Jonathan Lambert as the eccentric TV producer and Kyla Kenedy as the child who finds a video tape that provides the movie’s central surrealistic mystery. Observant viewers may recognize Kennedy from her role as Mika Samuels, the tiny badass from the Walking Dead. She has the titular role in this film, a young girl named Reality–and the fact that a movie called Reality has an eleven-year-old girl in the titular role should give you some indication of the depths of meta we’re reaching here. Nevertheless it’s appropriate, as Kyla has the most natural and grounded performance in the entire picture.
Of the multiple interweaving narratives, I was most invested in hers. She has to confront the world’s madness more directly than any of the other characters after she sees her father pull a bloody video tape out of a wild boar’s stomach. Her parents deny the tape’s existence, but she unravels its mysteries with a child’s matter-of-fact acceptance and analysis. I do wish the movie had been bookended by her story – the only one that provided anything resembling traditional narrative satisfaction or closure. The few moments after its conclusion felt superfluous and even more disconnected than the rest of the film.
It’s funny how we engage with stories that lack a conventional protagonist and structure. French comedian Alain Chabat is the ostensible star, delivering a joyful and nuanced performance as a director on a quest for the world’s best sound effect groan, but his story feels unmoored. Of all the flim’s conflicting realities, his is the least steady, making his plotline and character feel weightless and insubstantial. I don’t believe in his reality, but I believe in Reality. Reality the person. And Reality the film, I guess? After thinking about this movie for too long, some words stop sounding like words.
Still, it’s been a long time since I’ve laughed out loud at a bilingual surrealist independent film. I came into this movie knowing only about the Tim an Eric connection, and I think the deadpan absurdity would appeal to fans of their style. Dupieux’s inventive transitions and blurring of reality also put me in mind of Michel Gondry and Satoshi Kon.
If you’ve got a few spare hours to become unmoored from reality, I’d suggest giving it a watch.
Reality is available on Video On Demand via IFC Midnight.