If you were to describe the work of French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet in one word, it would be fun. Jeunet’s kooky visuals and slapstick humor harken back to the last whimsical ripples of the French New Wave. In his previous work, like surrealist dark comedy Delicatessen or manic pixie dream girl manifesto Amélie, his visuals perfectly suited the subject matter. When he tried his hand at sci-fi in Alien Resurrection, he was restrained by Joss Whedon’s script and the blockbuster machine.
But in Bigbug, now streaming on Netflix, the combination of the two proves to be his downfall. While Jeunet could make a sci-fi movie or a comedic farce, Bigbug proves doing both at once is too ambitious.
It’s rare to see a classic farce today. While wild misunderstandings used to be all over screens in classics like Some Like it Hot or Arsenic and Old Lace, only the occasional rom-com or parody is still brave enough to claim the label. But Bigbug’s embraces of the farcical isn’t the problem with the film; the setting is.
Bigbug is set in the year 2045, where domestic robots help out with chores ranging from baby rearing to cooking. It’s the vision of the future you’d see in 1960s postcards, but outside the manicured lawns and high-tech airlocks, a political upheaval is happening. The robotic “Yonyx” are looking to take over the world, and control over these domestic helpers is the perfect approach.
Through contrived circumstances, a group of people are trapped in a house: Book collector and amateur writer Alice, her ex-husband Victor, his fiancée Jennifer, Alice and Victor’s adopted daughter Nina, Alice’s kooky neighbor Françoise, Alice’s intriguing date Max, and his teenage son Leo are all held hostage by rebellious robots.
The robots, clued in on the Yonyx’s plan to replace humans, try to figure out just what it means to be human. Is it empathy? A sense of humor? All their attempts are brought to a head when a member of the Yonyx invades the home and attempts to set things right.
It’s part comedy, part cultural commentary, and part sci-fi thriller. If Bigbug was just two it could give both the attention they deserved, but as it stands every element seems pulled from another movie. The comedy is straight from less serious European sci-fi farces like G.O.R.A. or Holiday on Mars. There are also some puns that are lost in translation, a hallmark of French comedy that maybe should have been edited out for a worldwide release.
As a cultural commentary, there are some parts that hit well (the post-pandemic world has replaced handshakes with elbow bumps, and Leo talks in weird future-teen slang) but not only is the overall message one that’s been said before, it’s been said multiple times on Netflix. “Humans are too reliant on technology to enjoy their humanity” is the ethos of Black Mirror, and the premise of “domestic robots turn against their owners” was the plot of a Love, Death & Robots episode. Frankly, watching Bigbug just made me want to re-watch the razor-sharp futurist satire of Sorry to Bother You.
Because Bigbug is a sci-fi farce, there are two forces pulling against the plot. The sci-fi needs explanations to keep the viewer buying into the plot, and the farce needs suspension of disbelief to sell the ridiculous occurrences. Unfortunately, the movie lands in the middle, with some moments explained in detail and others written off as coincidences. How the humans escape the Yonyx’s thermal vision is marginally clever, but ends up being worthless as the entire plot is undone through a pure coincidence.
That said, it’s an absolutely gorgeous film to watch. Because so much of the story takes place in Annie’s house, it’s clear the production design was a priority. The way Nina’s room incorporates the letters of her name, the soft-boiled egg cooking robot, and the end table that flips into a lounge chair all suggest a practical but playful future.
Bigbug can’t decide if it wants to be taken seriously, but it does deserve to be taken in. Don’t expect a flawless comedy or a tight thriller. Just enjoy the kooky aesthetics that made Jean-Pierre Jeunet so renowned, and try to overlook the confusion it instills in you.
Bigbug is now streaming on Netflix.