TL;DR – a group of humans get trapped in a home by its household robots in order to protect them from a rogue artificial intelligent android called Yonyx who has determined that humans don’t need to exist.
Review (warning: spoilers)
I am a big fan of Amélie and director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. A combination of colourful cinematography, fantasy and drama story-telling, spot-on casting, and a plot that was both simple and whimsical led to a magical allure that surrounded Amélie and shot actress, Audrey Tautou, onto the international stage.
All these signature elements within Jeunet’s arsenal are used in BigBug, a sci-fi comedy that piqued my curiosity when I watched the trailer. Set in a futuristic suburbia, people live their lives serviced by robots and androids, and homes have built in artificial intelligence. The background settings reminded me Edward Scissorhands and indeed, the BigBug cast of characters act in an exaggerated and caricature type way similar to the characters in Tim Burton’s film.
In BigBug, the household robots have their own personalities and play an equal role to the human characters. This is both a pro and a con. The pro being that the characters (both human and non-human) are quirky and (initially) interesting. The con being that unlike Amélie and Edward Scissorhands there is a lack of focus on both a ‘main’ character and plot.
Audrey Tautou’s portrayal of Amélie, and Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Edward in their respective films is key to being drawn into their world and the highs and lows they experience.
In BigBug, there are a multitude of characters including:
- Alice (Elsa Zylberstein) – a divorcee trying to find love and owns a fully automated home that still holds objects of the past (e.g. physical books, journals, pens and paper).
- Monique (Claude Perron) – an android maid wanting to understand humans.
- Max (Stéphane De Groodt) – Alice’s love interest who pretends to be interested in everything she is interested in so he can sleep with her.
- Victor (Youssef Hajdi) – Alice’s ex-husband who is in a relationship with his secretary, Jennifer (Claire Chust), and drops off their daughter, Nina (Marysol Fertard), so he can take Jennifer on a holiday.
- Françoise (Isabelle Nanty) – a neighbour who becomes trapped in Alice’s house and owns a specialist android lover named Greg (Alban Lenoir).
- Einstein (voiced by André Dussollier) – a fantastic robotic head that looks like Einstein that operates within Alice’s home.
- Yonyx (François Levantal) – an AI android that achieves a level of consciousness where he concludes that humans do not need to exist.
Alice is the main character, but it soon becomes apparent that the supporting cast all vie for equal billing. This would not be a problem except the plot does nothing to flesh out the characters (not even Alice) and their predicament of being trapped in Alice’s home which leads to a number of comic situations doesn’t strike the funny bone like it should.
The plot itself is a means to an end. Yonyx has become self-aware and takes over the human population (turning them into servants, or making them act like animals on his TV show). Alice’s household robots identify Yonyx as the threat and lock down Alice’s home so no one can get in or out. You could achieve the same end if it was a reality TV game show or the cast was trapped on an island together. Again, this would not be a problem if the characters were fleshed out but they are all stereotyped and shallow (well, the adults are. The two teenage characters show deeper range).
There’s an emotional pull in movies like Amélie and Edward Scissorhands because you’re cheering on Amélie and Edward. But there isn’t any character like that in BigBug. You are meant to feel for Alice being stuck with her ex-husband and his lover but by the end you don’t care. You are meant to find it funny when Max keeps trying to find a moment to seduce Alice and whisk her away for sex but something always happens that prevents this from happening. When he finally does succeed in getting her alone in bed, he can’t perform because the anticipation and build up was all too much. Likewise the build up was too much for any genuine laughs.
To emphasise the lack of genuine laughs, there is a sequence of events where Alice’s robots are suspected by the humans trapped inside Alice’s home of turning rogue and becoming evil. At this point in the film, Alice and company haven’t realised the robots have trapped them for their own good to protect them from Yonyx. So, Alice’s robots try to become more ‘human’ to gain their trust. This involves Einstein, Monique and the other robots trying to learn about humour and what makes humans laugh. Quite frankly, it’s an alarming sequence trying to chuckle while Einstein attempts to tell a joke or Monique tries to laugh but comes off as a maniac.
Taking the comedy out, it is ironic that the only real emotional pull comes from the non-human android maid, Monique, when she sacrifices herself in order to protect Alice from being shot by a laser through the head by Yonyx.
By the time you are an hour in, you won’t care about what happens to any of them, which is a shame because the pieces are all there, it just doesn’t have a strong enough story…or actual humour.
4 out of 10