Review by Sean Boelman
Jean-Pierre Jeunet is one of the best surrealist filmmakers, and so it was an interesting prospect to see how he would handle such a real, grounded topic as the COVID-19 pandemic. And while enough of Jeunet’s characteristic absurdity is there for Bigbug to be charming, its satire is too flat for it to have much of an impact.
The movie follows a group of suburbanites who are stuck together when they are locked in when a robot uprising occurs. It attempts to be something like The Terminator by way of Jean-Paul Sartre, and there are certainly some great bits here that are sure to stick with fans of the filmmaker, it often ends up feeling like too much of a missed opportunity.
Part of the film's issue is that it goes through so many narrative and tonal shifts over the course of its runtime. At first, it’s a farcical chamber piece following a bunch of people as they discuss politics, then it turns into more of a thriller with a darkly comedic edge. Both work well enough on their own but don’t entirely come together.
Another issue that the movie has is that the themes aren’t the most clear. Somehow the film is both heavy-handed and unfocused, which isn’t the greatest combination. The commentary on the ridiculousness of human society is funny, but it’s almost low-hanging fruit. And the stuff about the relationship that people have with technology is surprisingly underdeveloped.
The character development also has its ups and downs. Although everyone in the main ensemble is pretty likable, they also aren’t all that memorable. The movie attempts to utilize romantic subplots to get us invested in the dynamic that exists between all of them, but it’s not as compelling as the writers seem to think it is.
All of the actors seem to have gotten the memo to be over-the-top and ridiculous. Everyone in the cast gets some pretty funny moments, but it is François Levantal who shines the most. As the maniacal android judge, jury, and executioner, Levantal gives a performance that both recalls some of the genre’s more prominent examples and feels distinctive enough on its own.
The film shares a lot of the stylistic elements characteristic of Jeunet’s work, albeit on a much more restrained scale. The few CGI effects definitely aren’t the best, but the parts that impress are those which use the production design and color quite well. There are also a few sequences that take the satire to the extreme, and those are some of the most stylistically interesting in the movie.
Bigbug definitely doesn’t stand up to some of Jeunet’s more iconic work, but it’s still an entertaining watch. In other hands, this definitely could have gone wrong very easily, but what we got is charmingly quirky enough to be worth a stream.
Bigbug is now streaming on Netflix.