The new slapstick sci-fi offering by French directorial royalty Jean-Pierre Jeunet is plagued by predictable innuendo
JEAN-PIERRE JEUNET is widely regarded as one of the finest French film-makers of the past 30 years, having overseen the likes of Delicatessen, A Very Long Engagement and the much adored 2001 romantic comedy Amélie.
Bigbug is Jeunet’s first feature film since 2013’s The Young and Prodigious T. S. Spivet and his first French-language film since 2009’s Micmacs. As fans of his work might expect, Bigbug, a futuristic sci-fi comedy, is downright bizarre.
Set in Paris in 2045, it takes place in a world where humans rely on robots to satisfy their every desire. Then four of Alice (Elsa Zylberstein)’s antiquated domestic robots decide to take her hostage, trapping her inside her home with her date Max (Stéphane de Groodt), his son Léo (Hélie Thonnat), her daughter Nina (Marysole Fertard), her ex-husband Victor (Youssef Hajdi) and his new girlfriend Jennifer (Claire Chust). Alice’s nosy neighbour Françoise (Isabelle Nanty), who happens to be visiting along with her sex robot Greg (Alban Lenoir), also gets locked in.
What starts off as a minor inconvenience soon gets real when it emerges that the latest generation of robots, the Yonyx (all played by François Levantal), is trying to take over the world. As the Yonyx get closer to Alice’s home, the humans start to turn against each other and the older robots, who may or may not be trying to keep them safe.
While Jeunet’s previous films are similarly quirky, in Bigbug, he plays for much bawdier laughs. Sometimes, it works. A robot’s analysis of why Max is lying to Alice at the start of the film, for instance, suggests that Jeunet might be about to explore artificial intelligence in a unique and irreverent way.
Unfortunately, though, that level of insight never materialises, and this early scene is about as funny as Bigbug gets. Sure, Victor’s increasing anger at being trapped inside is amusing to watch unfold, plus there are a handful of other slapstick moments that you can’t help but smile at. But in general, it is surprising how predictable most of the gags are.
Filming began in October 2020, and it seems that Jeunet has tried to channel the mental and emotional struggles of quarantine during covid-19 and to critique both the world’s reliance on technology and its infatuation with social media. Unfortunately, whatever message he is attempting to get across never really materialises. In its place are crude innuendos and sex jokes.
Some of Jeunet’s more unusual creative decisions also make Bigbug less successful than it should be. It is jarring that, despite the mighty financial backing of Netflix, the special effects look so cheap as to be genuinely off-putting. What’s more, while the characters are almost entirely motivated by sex and the film includes several scenes that are definitely not suitable for children, the world Jeunet has created looks and feels cartoonish.
Alice’s home, her clothes, her robots and even the flying cars all appear to have been inspired by The Jetsons, while the villainous Yonyx, who all look and act the same, could have been ripped straight from a 1970s comic book.
While these elements don’t come close to gelling, Jeunet’s light direction, bright colour palette and attractive set design do at least make Bigbug watchable. It helps that the script also takes some unexpected twists and turns that see the characters getting romantically entangled in ways that you might not initially expect.
But considering Jeunet’s past cinematic triumphs, and after so long away from the camera, Bigbug just doesn’t provide enough laughs or sufficient thematic depth to be anything other than disappointing.
More on these topics: