Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s latest is colorful, but cringe-inducing chaos.
After shopping the BigBug’s script around for four years, writer and director Jean-Pierre Jeunet finally found a home for his absurdist robot-centric comedy with Netflix in January 2020. Cue the pandemic just a few months later. Unfortunately, the ensuing delay lasted just long enough for Jeunet to add some of the most cringe-worthy Covid mentions I’ve seen to date.
Yes, I’m sad to report that the director of Amélie and Delicatessen isn’t returning from his nearly decade-long absence from the silver screen (except for a small short produced in 2016) with a film worthy of roses and fanfare.
BigBug is a colorful, bungling mess that’s an exhausting two-hour watch. Set in 2050, Jeunet manages to cram every possible semi-grim, hot-topic prediction for the future into the first few scenes. Crickets and worms as part of the everyday diet? Check. The Netherlands consumed by floodwaters? Check. Is there even a reference to a Covid-50 variant ravaging Europe? Yep, it’s another check for that one, too.
But primarily, BigBug focuses on the future of AI and the role it might soon play in our lives. Unfortunately, Jeunet’s interest in artificial intelligence is spread across so many aspects of it—from our over-reliance on it to how it can replace human connection to how well computers and tech can know us—that he doesn’t really make a solid point on any front.
BigBug’s vision of future robots is at least playful, for which it deserves some small credit. The Yonyx, the robots that are the most involved in policing everyday life–one even shown running for office–are horrifying in a kind of gleeful way. All of the Yonyx models have cold steel bodies, topped the rubbery face of François Levantal. Their enlarged teeth give them a kind of unsettling Biden-esque smile. Obsessed with “antiques,” our heroine Alice (Elsa Zylberstein) fills her home with books and calligraphy (people don’t read in this future and can no longer write longhand) and, of course, retro AI long past in need of an upgrade.
Matching the fun and funky appearance of the androids, the entire look and feel of BigBug is refreshingly colorful.
Her housemaid android sports a sharp white bob and a big smile. Another looks like the disembodied mechanical head of Einstein. A third possesses a charming Wall-E vibe. Her ex-husband finds all this old nonsense utterly ridiculous, but when a malfunction seals Alice, and a host of other characters inside her home, their only saving grace may be those dusty old robots.
Matching the fun and funky appearance of the androids, the entire look and feel of BigBug is refreshingly colorful. It’s a welcome reprieve from most modern sci-fi’s muted grays and blues. But that’s also its only real saving grace.
Once trapped inside Alice’s house, Jeunet’s cast of characters should be a powder keg. There’s Alice, her new beau Max, his son, Alice’s adopted daughter Nina, her neighbor Françoise, not to mention ex-husband Victor and his new girlfriend Jennifer. There are endless combinations of people screaming at each other, crying in front of each other, and trying to bone. But none of it works on any single level.
While clearly stuck in the past, the cause of Alice’s resistance remains unclear. Victor seems pretty damn awful, and the two don’t share a single tender moment during the film. New lover Max is hardly any better, clearly fabricating whatever he needs to about himself in an attempt to get in Alice’s pants. Finally, every scene with poor Jennifer only reiterates what an unlikeable idiot she is.
Worse, like everyone else in the film, she’s arc-less. No one grows. No one changes. Everyone seems pretty much as miserable or annoyed by the end of the film as they do at the beginning, which just makes you wonder why you spent the time to watch this story unfold at all. BigBug might be obsessed with the future, but it’s likely to be a forgotten relic in Jeunet’s oeuvre.
Netflix locks down BigBug beginning February 11th.