While the concept of artificial intelligence gaining vengeful sentience and taking over the planet is barely an original idea, it’s the notions that have spun out from this genre that have kept it oh so fresh. So, if you have Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the kooky minds behind hits such as “Into The Spiderverse” and the “Jump Street” franchise serving as the producers of such a movie, you know you’re in for a ride on the trippy road.
“The Mitchells vs the Machines” is the comedy duo’s latest effort after 2018’s huge web-slinging success. Tapping the directorial talents of “Gravity Falls” writers, Mike Rianda and Jeff Rowe, the film centres on Katie Mitchell (Abbi Jacobson) is an aspiring filmmaker who’s about to leave for California to pursue her artistic future at a prestigious film college.
In a world supported by the boundless imagination of the Internet, Katie’s videos are about as chaotic as a hamster pulling on a bottle and dancing to Alice DJ’s “Better Off Alone”. Of course, her family similarly inhabits different sections of the colour spectrum.
Lil’ bro Aaron (Mike Rianda) has a knack for dinosaurs, and being the weirdest… but still mostly dinosaurs. Mommy Linda (Maya Rudolph) is the sort of eerily sweet aunt who bakes you cupcakes with your face on them. Daddy Rick (Danny McBride), on the other hand, is the chill dude who loves everything about the outdoors like building sheds and traps and getting stuck in his own wooden contraptions.
And, yeah, to top it off, there’s a cross-eyed dog named Monchi, played by the Internet’s favourite pug, Doug.
However, while the diverse characteristics all make for an interesting family dynamic, friction actually occurs between Katie and her dad. Rick Mitchell exhibits a sort of parental insecurity with Katie. Her chroma-key indulgences can’t penetrate her dad’s technophobia, and this is something that brings her at odds with her dad at home. Even when she’s excited to go to college, his seeming disapproval of the field crushes her feelings, making her more distant from her familial soul.
Why… does this sound so familiar? Oh yeah, we’re Asians. (Snorts…*) Moving on.
After some coaxing by Linda, Rick attempts to make things right by haphazardly putting together a road trip to the West Coast to send Katie off. While things are kinda alright at first, it all spirals out of control when *BAM!* Robots attack and begin capturing humans, placing them in force-field pods to be sent off into the emptiness of outer space.
It is then that Sarah Connor and the T-800 leap in from the future and save all humanity in one perfect swoop. One last celebratory shot. Credits roll. Buh-bye.
Nah. We’re kidding.
One of the film’s strengths lies in its satire of an Instagram society. We live in a world where our minds, and sometimes our physical bodies, are glued to our screens. How many times have we felt the sharp pain of our mobile device going the way of gravity on our faces while we are happily resting on our beds?
The film’s second title, “Connected”, was probably conceptualised to reflect that sort of dissociation from our actual lives while we are absorbed into virtuality that connects us with the rest of the world. Yes, we record everything in our lives. Yes, we love watching videos of a person chowing down on the last dandelion of the season on a random sunny day.
Indeed, the social media giants of today are constantly feeding into our consumer mindset, providing endless updates to create and express. Filters. Omegle. Clubhouse. The Internet is so vast that we have this limitless aspiration to get as big as we can on this platform that we have. Services are becoming more streamlined, with some old business concepts going the way of the dodo. Yet, it begs the question, if a cataclysm were to happen and our connectivity is abruptly taken from us, would we be able to survive as a race?
Again, it’s not to say that our technological boom at the turn of the millennium has not been explored in multiple forms of art. Yet, “The Mitchells vs the Machines” spruces up that very concept into a heartwarming tale, with a Red Bull infusion of memes into its narrative bloodstream.
Of course, “The Mitchells vs The Machines” does not make that entire aspect its main theme. It does criticise everything as technology is part and parcel of our lives whether we like it or not. As a matter of fact, much of the movie revolves around Katie’s relationship with her father while the other Mitchells are caught in the middle of this rift. There’s a certain resentment that Katie holds as a teenager on wanting to break away from her family’s shadow. Rick doesn’t understand her Gen-Z ways. He fails to understand that her talents and gifts aren’t the conventional ones he’s used to seeing.
There are multiple occasions where we get to exclaim “OK, BOOMER” at the screen, but… Rick is not heartless. He loves his daughter very much and just wants the best for her. As we progress through the film, we see compromises that each side takes for the other as they work toward a common goal to save humanity from extinction.
In the end, it’s the message of family that prevails. No matter how dysfunctional or how distinctive each member may be, it is familial love that holds it all together. It’s a heartwarming message that pushes all the way through to its credits where you see all of the performers and crew members with their families. Not gonna lie, just seeing all those faces adjacent to the scrolling names was a beautiful cherry, and we shed some tears at this moment.
As for its brand of comedy, we have to give props to the writing team. The quick-cut punchlines are a welcome feature and are used to good effect because it does not get too overbearing. Sure, there are tons of stuff in this movie that make you question its sensibilities, but that’s the whim of it. “The Crown” actress Olivia Colman as a Siri-like virtual assistant going full-Skynet along with the crazy fun that is a humungous Furby tearing up a dilapidated mall will have you bawling with laughter. Or… having robots question the existence of Monchi, malfunctioning as they fail to get an answer are some of the other hilarious gags that get audiences rolling on the floor with their guts tied up in a laughing knot.
The great thing about this is that you never know what to expect. The writers are smart enough to subvert expectations due to the family’s unpredictability. Viewers are thrown around the room with glee as we never know what is coming. One minute, it may be dinosaurs, and then the next will be a full-blown magnetised plane coming out of the sky at ya (ok, that never actually happens but we’re lookin’ at ya Torretto).
It’s chaotic, but enjoyable, in every sense.
The wacky animation is a part of the film’s comedic DNA as it incorporates random animation techniques into its cell-shaded style. Whenever someone is thinking, you often see some a conceptualisation of emotions onscreen as well albeit in two-dimensional form. There’s a lot of care when it comes to its framing which certainly helps to highlight the scale, intensity and reactions to a particular sequence.
Truly, this is one of the funniest and yet wittiest films we had the opportunity to watch this year. If you’re feeling down, “The Mitchells vs The Machines” is the trigger to get your endorphins flowing. Despite its quirky humour, it still manages to get into the roots of a fast-paced society along with the relationships of this day and age to create a wonderful and wholesome experience. Truly, it’s one for all ages.
“The Mitchells vs the Machines” is currently streaming on Netflix.
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"The Mitchells vs the Machines"
The quirky fun that is "The Mitchells vs the Machines" is an amazing example of how quick-cut comedy can still work for a coherent narrative while maintaining its overall focus on its sweeter themes. Indeed, you'd be better off with the Mitchells if you want to live!
- "The Mitchells vs The Machines" Review