Directed By: Quentin Dupieux
Starring: Stephen Spinella, Jack Plotnick, Roxane Mesquida, Daniel Quinn, Devin Brochu, Hayley Holmes, Haley Ramm, Cecelia Antoinette, Ethan Cohn, Charley Koontz, Wings Hauser
Who knew there was a tactful way to make a spoof? Well, Rubber isn’t really a parody film like let’s say a Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer film, but it certainly takes aim at the industry. What makes Rubber so beautifully unique is the way it approaches taking throwing that punch. Not only does it outright announce its intentions right from the start, but it’s also a story in and of itself and pretty damn fun, terrifying and innovative one at that.
In the middle of a desert, chairs are randomly scattered along a dirt road. A car appears and proceeds to zigzag along this path, taking out each chair along the way. Why? For no reason. After the demolition exhibition, a cop (Stephen Spinella) gets out of the trunk of that car to deliver a monologue about the lack of reason in all great films, which is justified because life itself is packed with no reason.
And on that note, we meet the actual audience within this film; a group of people armed with binoculars getting ready to witness the story of Robert the tire. In the distance, they watch as Robert comes to life. Just like a newborn, he takes his first steps (or rolls) and explores his surroundings. Oh, and he also discovers his ability to cause things to explode. It begins with a beer bottle, a poor rabbit and then Robert makes his way to a local motel where he directs his ability on human heads all while this audience watches in the distance.
Rubber is certainly an odd movie. The opening monologue itself is enough to throw you off or at least lead you to ask yourself, ‘What the heck is this?’ The unusual nature of the film never abates, but once you meet Robert, you’ll find yourself entirely engaged and it all starts to make sense and that, in itself, is an incredibly curious occurrence.
Robert is the heart of the movie. It’s quite strange, but there’s something about seeing any intimate object come to life that instantly earns your compassion. This is particularly powerful in the way Dupieux introduces us to Robert. We’re with him from day one; kind of like the day he’s born. He wobbles as he tries to “walk,” he sips water from a puddle and has fun crushing a plastic bottle. It’s all kind of, well, cute. Once Robert moves on from a loveable animal-like creature to a sadistic killer, some of that original innocence is maintained, as is the compassion you have for the character, regardless of his heinous actions.
On the other hand, Robert makes for a quite terrifying villain, too. He’s no vigilante taking out the bad guys, rather someone who kills innocent people. Perhaps a motel employee might have insulted Robert by assuming he was no more than a dirty old tire, but does that really mean she deserves to have her head blown up? No and Dupieux does a fantastic job of putting Robert’s volatile nature at the forefront, maintaining a great deal of tension from beginning to end.
What makes both elements so effective is Dupieux. This is a director who really knew what he was doing when he stepped behind the lens and the fact that he took on multiple positions on this project including director, writer, composer, cinematography and editor, made the results all the more powerful. Everything from the absurdity of the story to the ways in which Robert is framed on screen, works together to create a wildly fascinating juxtaposition of elements meant to make you emote with others that are simply drenched in pure absurdity. In fact, those moments of ridiculousness are so well constructed, they’re never distractingly bizarre, allowing the film to flow at an impeccable pace.
The sole issue with Rubber is something that becomes particularly distracting, the human performances. The crowd watching Robert is filled with tons of different personalities, but they all have one thing in common; they’re annoying. This was likely meant to compliment the ludicrousness of the story itself, but some of them, particularly two obnoxious teenage girls, are just so over the top, they’re hard to watch. The opposite is the case for Robert’s love interest, Sheila (Roxane Mesquida). She’s so underplayed, there’s really nothing to her. The only reason you like her at all is because Robert’s got a crush on her; otherwise, she merely fulfills the duty of an extra. On the other hand, there is one human actor that manages to pull off a performance just as effective as our starring tire and that is Spinella. He nails it right from the start delivering his monologue in a manner in which he’s merely rattling off nonsense, but pulling you in all at the same time. He’s got that effect in just about every scene he’s in the most memorable of which comes when he attempts to explain to his fellow officers that they’re just putting on an act and the show’s over. He’s likeable, amusing and serves as the perfect link from “the show” to “the real world.”
What it comes down to is that Rubber is just a strange film. It’s a unique mash up of horror, comedy and genre, yet doesn’t exactly fit the standard definition of any of those categories. It might be hard to appreciate right from the start, but should you give Rubber a chance, Robert will certainly roll into your heart, make you laugh and manage to give you nightmares all at the same time.
By Perri Nemiroff