The Mitchells vs. The Machines

The Mitchells vs. The Machines ★★

This is a great example of the way films existing as part of a wider canon can impact your enjoyment of them. In isolation, this would be an excellent, wholesome family comedy with a unique comedic language. As part of Lord and Miller's career, it comes across like two previously exciting prospects on autopilot, out of fresh ideas and liberally robbing from themselves.

It results in a Frankenstein's Monster of their greatest hits. The disconnect between parent and child over a lack of mutual interests and the direction of the child's career, culminating in the dad fumbling with technology to save the day and loving them for who they are? That's just Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs again. For that matter, the jealousy of the perfect family next door is a rehashing of Mr T and his son's roles from the same film. The previously adorable female character losing her mind in extremis and slicing through hordes of enemies was an identical execution of Alison Brie's character in The Lego Movie, and it's a small detail, but the upside down slo-mo flip was Into The Spiderverse. The blunt criticism of modern Silicon Valley tech companies was Cloudy 2. The day-saving goober that is destroyed to raise the stakes at the end of the second act is... wow, that's actually all of the above.

In this context, it suddenly makes the whole film seem so uninventive, and robs it of a lot of good will. Little moments like the Spiderverse flip could read as an Easter egg but they've no longer got that benefit of the doubt. Taking all that away, the script is left with a lot of clichés. Parents think technology is a buffer to human contact, but young people consider it a valid form of communication. People treat technology as disposable. Insightful stuff.

That's a real shame because the visuals are doing a lot of heavy lifting, especially with Katie's homegrown subjective editing injecting energy and a bizarre middle action sequence involving a kaiju Furby. As always with Lord and Miller projects, peripheral lines become the funniest moments through great delivery of quirky jokes, and between these two elements it's a consistently funny film. It's also nice to see every character get an arc, even the dog. It's just filled out with such bland, predictable connective tissue.

Finally, this is a just a petty gripe. I'm sick of the opening scene. A wacky scene in media res, usually with an incongruous voiceover, before we flash back to two weeks earlier. It was worn out to the point of self-parody YEARS ago with Megamind, then it was accidentally revived through the "record scratch, freeze frame, yep that's me" meme, and suddenly it's back. It was lame in Thor Ragnarok, it was lame in fucking The White Tiger of all things, and it's lame here. It belies such a lack of confidence in your audience to start slow and remain invested without the promise of immediate shenanigans. It's cheesy, it's lazy, it's cheap and I just don't like it. Can we stop letting films get influenced by meme popularity?

Mark liked this review