2 out of 5
Directed by: Jean Pierre-Jeunet
I admittedly don’t come to Jean Pierre-Jeunet films to necessarily have my left brain challenged. I can’t remember if I’d seen Delicatessen or City of Lost Children first, but in either case, even as a youth, these felt conceptually simple, and then visually fantastic. And the director – at that point paired with Marc Caro – seemed to recognize this as well, making it more about the journey experienced in the movie than trying to impart any special wisdom. Having kept tabs on his work, this has mostly remained true, peaking in the very self-referential Micmacs.
Admittedly, I haven’t seen Jeunet’s prior film yet, The Young and Prodigious T. S. Spivet, but everything else in his filmography has a checkmark in my viewing list thus far, and Bigbug – produced in the midst of COVID-19 – is the first of his movies to rather cross the line into prioritizing messaging, and while the reliable visual hijinx are still very much in play, they feel more forced when the equation is balanced as such, made moreso when that messaging feels particularly… dated.
Did you know that humans rely on technology too much? Did you know that we’re backing ourselves into a depressing future in which our desire for ease results in our subjectivity to that ease? What about the singularity, have you heard of that?
Not only are these not new conversations concerning tech, they’re not new conversations since forever – since any form of I-can’t-see-how-it-works-by-looking-at-it machinery was constructed. Plenty of writers have nonetheless brought such conversations into relevance over and over, in book, TV, comic, and movie form, but while I kept waiting for Bigbug to bump the line into that territory, it instead fell back on making a pretty self-aware COVID joke, ha ha.
To be fair-er, there are a lot of interesting aspects jam-packed into this (lain out well in the Roger Ebert review), but in the same way that Jeunet’s visuals are never subtle, when you pair that with an attempted think-piece on technology, it means none of those aspects are subtle either. Throw it into a blender with farcical French sex comedy, and the locked-room concept of the movie – family, neighbors, and ex-husbands end up getting locked in their house by an unresponsive AI – can feel restrictive to the viewer as well, the movie staying primarily in one gear of bickering and ignorance and flirting until the overbearing robot race of the film (the Yvonyx) shows up to move it into its concluding section. Yes, that very much vibes with the concept of humanity perpetuating a doom-y cycle, but there was something about this that needed to be unleashed a bit more. It definitely pops up in a couple of scenes – the conclusion is conceptually funny, although the timing of the way it’s shot feels odd, which is true of much of the film, edited into odd vignettes that just sort of fade out unsmoothly into the next scene; and an escape gambit featuring a dog felt very Jeaunet-y – but this goofball sensibility otherwise, as mentioned, comes across as forced, doing fish-eye lens shots and over-emoting to try to counter the serious undertones, which, being shallowly effected, makes the whole film like it never quite finds its gear.
The lack of world-building exposition is appreciated; it shows there’s a fun setup behind Bigbug, and definitely the skill at hand to bring it to life without some snooze-y text crawl or voiceover at the start to explain it. But the setting itself is essentially enough to make Jeaunet’s points, and the 2 hours-ish of movie is otherwise just some repetitive scenes as an addendum to that.