Sunday, June 16, 2024

‘The Mitchells vs. the Machines’ Embraces the Chaos

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The Mitchells vs. the Machines is a movie filled with an infectious joy of creating and storytelling. It also happens to be one of the funniest movies of the year. At one point, I was laughing so hard I had to pause the movie.

If you’re curious, it was the Furby scene. Those who have seen Mike Rianda’s ode to families and the sometimes tense relationships that fracture over time will know what I mean. The movie is drawn from personal experience.

Maybe not so much the robot apocalypse or rogue AI, PAL (voiced by Olivia Coleman) is hellbent on shooting every human into space, but some of it happened, possibly. The point is these characters feel like people we know. They are flawed in a way that makes them lovable but also hard to love at times.

Ostensibly The Mitchells vs. the Machines is about a family filled with the usual characters. Rick (Danny McBride) the nature-loving patriarch and technophobe who’s struggling to connect with his now grown daughter as she prepares to go off to college. There’s Linda (Maya Rudolph), the loving, patient, and put upon eye of the storm. The Mitchells have two kids, Aaron (Mike Rianda), a dinosaur-loving geek, and Katie (Abbi Jacobson), the film nerd Queer tomboy who can’t wait to flee the nest and spread her wings.

Okay, maybe Katie is part of the normal makeup-but she should be. Jacobson’s Katie as the creative film-obsessed artistic weirdo is a breath of fresh air. Though her sexuality is never outright stated, she’s made a film called “Chloe Chang Will You Go Out With Me” and seems pretty psyched to meet her new friend/crush, Jade (Sasheer Zamata). In other words, it never “says it,” but it is impossible to miss the queerness in the the film or Katie.

Oh, and they have a pet dog Monchi who is voiced by internet sensation Doug the Pug. Yes, The Mitchells vs. the Machines have a dog voicing a dog—it’ genius.

But that’s only a sliver of what makes The Mitchells vs. the Machines so delightful and refreshing. The story revolves around Rick’s and Katie’s relationship, a once indestructible bond that has begun to show wear and tear. Rianda, who also co-wrote the script with Jeff Rowe, gives us a nuanced look at why the two have started to drift apart. Rick doesn’t like computers but Katie, being younger, has her world revolving around them.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines trudges through the age-old debate “the internet was a mistake.” Except it doesn’t just say that over and over. Rianda and Rowe understand how vital technology is while also understanding the cost of such advancement. Rick is right to be suspicious of big tech because big tech doesn’t care about Rick. But for Katie, an art-obsessed non-hetero-normative girl who lives in the suburbs, it is her haven, her found family.

Rick’s attempt to repair that deteriorating bond comes in canceling Katie’s flight and instead of taking her to college on a family road trip. The bad breaks keep coming when the founder of PAL Labs, Dr. Mark Bowman (Eric Andre), introduces a new fleet of robots designed to be a living extension of your phone. The current phone AI, PAL, doesn’t like being replaced and predictably takes over and attempts to cleanse the world of us pesky humans.

Because the Mitchells are, let’s call them, a family of people who feel their feelings, they manage to outsmart the robots by being simply themselves. They even accidentally damage a couple of the PAL-bots, causing them to malfunction and become helpful. Voiced by Fred Armisen and Beck Bennett, the two add a layer of absurdity to the already surreal proceedings.

The Mitchells overcome both their own familial turmoil and also defeat the robot uprising. Rianda and his animators have chosen such a colorful, almost meme-worthy animation style that sublimely highlights the film’s themes. The animation and the gonzo cuts and morphs drip with modern internet humor and an inventive way to get inside the character’s head.

The Furby scene, as mentioned earlier, is hysterical to the point of a health hazard. Its humor comes not just from the Furbies saying things like “Welcome to the twilight of man,” which on its own is still pretty funny. But because anyone alive when Furbies came into existence knows the mixture of fascination and unexplainable dread the cute tiny robots inspired. 

But beyond its gonzo sense of humor, it has heart in a way few films dare. It allows us to understand Katie and Rick while also understanding that one can be both wrong and right. That it does this without resorting to “both sides” is a minor miracle. The Mitchells vs. the Machines understand that humans contain multitudes and that we are not always the best we can be. 

McBride’s Rick stands out simply because I did not know it was him. His voice work is astonishing in that it never sounds like McBride, but it always sounds like Rick. It’s not a funny voice or an exaggerated voice; it is Rick’s voice in that it feels like a genuine character.

The same goes for the other voice actors, particularly Jacboson’s Katie, a true blue weirdo and a walking disaster, much like her father. Jacobson imbues Katie with a lovable goofiness and headstrong belief in herself. That she is allowed to be multiple things is one of the many charms of the movie.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines has as big of a heart as it does a brain propped up by a wicked funny bone. Colorfully animated and drawn with a zest that radiates joy and passion, it never drags and hits every pitch over the fence. Artistry and clever script work aside; it’s just a good funny, heartwarming movie.

Image courtesy of Netflix

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