Film review by: Witney Seibold
Quentin Despieux‘s “Rubber” is a cult hit in the making. You may have read about it. It’s that film about a sentient living tire, that rolls about a desert landscape, merrily killing the people who anger or abuse it. The tire explodes people’s heads with its psychic powers, and stalks each of its victims with violent glee (or whatever a tire feels). But what sounds like a mere playful spoof of slasher film tropes, very quickly proves itself to be a mind-melting absurdist comedy, that is much more interested in exploring the subtle give-and-take relationship audiences have with the films they watch. “Rubber” is nothing short of a beautiful, hilarious, confusing, and pointed surrealist exercise, all cloaked in the guise of a slasher spoof. Don’t be fooled, college kids. This is no mere larf. It is a legitimate oddity.
“Rubber” opens with a monologue given by talented character actor Stephen Spinella, who plays a sheriff. He explains that “no reason” seems to be the driving force behind most drama, and proceeds to cites a handful of inappropriate examples. He pours a glass of water onto the ground. He distributes binoculars to a small audience looking on, and they spy the events of the film through them. The grizzled old man in the crowd is played by Wings Hauser. They comment on the film, but become concerned as the day passes, and they run out of food.
Through the binoculars, they espy the titular tire slowly rising from its roadside grave, and slowly understanding its new mobility and vivacity. These scenes featuring just the tire are a marvel of filmmaking. Through only subtle movements and editing, we begin to feel the character of the tire, its need to learn about itself, its nascent consciousness. The puppetry is as impressive as anything in Albert Lamorisse‘s 1956 film “The Red Balloon,” and we get a similar sense of child-like wonder watching the tire roll about through the dusty desert roads, taking naps by the highway, and drinking at ponds. Eventually the tire (credited as “Robert”) learns that it has the ability to psychically explode things it dislikes. That’s when the film kicks into spoof territory.
From there, we have some of the recognizable slasher tentpoles: the kid (Remy Thorne) whom no one believes; the father (David Bowe from “UHF”) who badmouths the kid, the sexy young hottie (Roxane Mesquida from “Fat Girl”) who takes a shower. But these elements are given the most rudimetary form of lip service, as the characters seem intent on commenting that they are in a film that makes no sense at all. We frequently cut back to the distant audience with binoculars, and they comment that they may die. Hm…
This may feel a little immature at times, and, in some passages “Rubber” resembles the off-the-wall and untamed comedy of any given self-formed college comedy troupe. I ran with those circles back in school, and I know many young ambitious filmmakers who made absurdist comedies of this stripe with their own camcorders as far back as the early 1990s. Where Despieux excels is not only his gumption in completing his wacky project, but his madman’s insistence that he is making a statement with his film, only to declaratively scream that he is not.
“Rubber” is delightfully absurd. It’s the kind of film that will pass into myth on college campuses. I have noticed that it is already topping “Weirdest Movie Ever” lists on the Internet Movie Database. “Rubber” will spend several years being mentioned in hushed tones by lovers of the bizarre. Cult celebrities will see it and love it. It will become a point of comparison. I have seen hundreds of bizarre, bizarre movies in my life, and feel that “Rubber” can join their ranks.
This is the kind of comedy that doesn’t come along nearly often enough. If it has any precedents at all, it would be Steven Soderbergh‘s 1996 film “Schizopolis,” another film that was pointedly pointless, unendingly hilarious, and left you feeling pleasantly off-balance. Despieux will likely bless us with more surrealist joy as the years pass, and we would all do well to see his current film in theaters.