Late into Quentin Dupieux’s new film Reality, Jason Tantra (Alain Chabat), accompanied by a rifle he’s borrowed from a stranger, checks himself into a French mental hospital conveniently located in southern California, calls his friend the French producer Bob Marshal (Jonathan Lambert) in order to tell him that he’s stuck in a nightmare and won’t be able to meet the 72-hour deadline that Marshall has allotted him in order to record the Oscar-winning groan of the century.
Bob Marshal, in the meantime, is watching some very tedious footage shot by the hobo film genius Zog (John Glover) in which Reality (Kyla Kenedy), a precocious seven-year-old who has fished out a video cassette from the entrails of a hog her father has shot and killed, secretly watching the cassette before her parents wake up. Just as Bob Marshal is about to lose his temper over having to watch footage of this gamine watching a video cassette whose contents are hidden from our view, the footage pans to the television screen Reality has been studying, revealing that the film is of Jason on the phone with Marshal. Marshall and Zog watch as a perky nurse comes into Jason’s hospital room to give him a suppository sleep aid. Jason, still on the phone with Marshal, resists, arguing that, as he is in fact fast asleep, stuck in a nightmare, he doesn’t need a sleep aid. The nurse persists and the ensuing yowl that Jason lets out as the suppository enters him turns out to be the Oscar-winning groan he and Marshal have been searching for.
Did you get all that? Great.
All this being said, and despite the surreal quality of the story, Reality is actually an extremely witty film at times. This has much to do with the unlikely cast of characters that Dupieux has managed to assemble, a mix of French and American comedians who share no on-screen chemistry—in fact, the families and couples depicted are so incompatible it gave me the chills—who keep bumbling into each other in an alternate universe of southern California whose population just happens to be 50% French.
I’ll admit that my hardened Frenco-American heart grew three sizes when Henri, played by the divine Eric Wareheim (of “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” fame) buzzes by in an army jeep, his face locked in that expression of malevolent stupidity Wareheim has so beautifully perfected, dressed in a powder blue skirt suit, flowing coral scarf, and cream platform sandals. The ensuing scene, which we later learn is actually a dream he is relating to Jason’s unbearable wife Alice (played by the angular Élodie Bouchez), a professional interpreter of dreams, is probably one of the only reasons I would urge anyone to see Reality.
But why is Eric so concerned by this particular dream?, Alice wants to know. Is it the cross dressing? The army jeep? The flowers he picks on the side of the road? No, he says. It’s because there’s an old guy in the dream. It disturbs him that there should be the presence of decrepitude in his subconscious.
Alice argues that what concerns her most is that the dream is too long. Maybe not by accident, so is Reality.