I’m here to not tell you too much about this movie.
January is, as a rule, a crap month for movies. The Christmas/New Year’s window is boffo, as Variety used to say when it knew what it was, and distributors usually release 1 or 2 movies in January that they think can do some business… 1 of them filling the relatively new Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday slot. This year, there are 2 white guys and a reboot of House Party going wide that weekend. Go figure. I hope all 3 movies are reasonably commercial or better.
The top box office title released this month should be, easily, M3GAN.
It is a classic Blumhouse/Wan kind of deal. Low budget… a doll with issues.
But director Gerard Johnstone, who has not had a full dance card, and writer Akela Cooper, who has, found that thing that happens when you hit just the right note for a new character who we will be seeing for decades to come.
In their creation of M3GAN - and it is surely much more complicated than the audience will realize - the key is the face. This robot has as many audience laughs and gasps from close-ups and small facial moments that everyone can read as any actor you love on that screen. It reminded me of the facial performance of Tim Curry in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. All you needed was a look to know exactly what he was thinking.
M3GAN doesn’t break the 4th wall with the intention of Curry, but she is just as easy to read. I don’t think audiences realize how much of the work in character CG is a variation on classic animation. It’s not just dots on the face and there you go. From Smeagol/Gollum to the Na’vi, facial emotion is an accumulation of a lot of different artistic skills.
Looking at the top of this page and the clever opening night presentation… this movie would not be nearly as good if M3GAN was “just” an actress made to look like a robot. Her unreality is a big part of her charm and creepiness. And unlike, say, Chucky, I imagine future incarnations of this character could vary visually, as it is the spirit brought into this inanimate object that wins the day, not the specific look (though it would not be the same if she ever seemed too natural).
There is a little girl in there, Amie Donald, credited for playing M3GAN. But there is someone else voicing the character (Jenna Davis). And clearly, young Amie is playing the body most of all… not that this is a small thing. M3GAN’s movement is part of the fun.
Since seeing the first ads for this film, I have thought that M3GAN was based on Lizzie Olsen with exaggerated eyes and some bad surgery.
But I digress…
You don’t want to know any of the details of this movie. From the advertising… 9-year-old Cady’s parents are dead. She comes to live with her aunt, who is a cutting-edge robotic toy maker. M3GAN is her bleeding-edge pal, created by the aunt. And she has a prime directive… keep Cady from being sad or endangered.
That’s all you should know. It’s no so much about story spoilers as it is about the many tiny, kinky surprises that bring pleasure.
But I will add… the film’s Verhoeven-ian sense of humor is apparent from the very beginning, a tribute to the filmmakers’ skill and precision in creating these moments.
And that this is the second film in a month (the other is Matilda The Musical) in which the idea that the ears of a young male can be stretched to an extreme comes up. I don’t ever remember it coming up before.
And finally, in a twist, not very deeply explored, but explored enough to make some impact, is the idea - which we have seen so many times, but in a fresh way here - of good intentions having unintended consequences… in this case, playing with the idea of parenting and the perspective that it brings. It’s one of the reasons why this isn’t just for your kids… it’s for the whole family who wants to take a rollercoater ride that is not too horrifying, but just horrifying enough. Violent, but not gory. The Bullwinkle of Child Robots Gone Wild movies.
What more can I tell you than it was a lot of fun. It’s familiar and fresh, smart and stupid, completely expected and full of surprises. If you are willing, it’s hard not to like.
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"I imagine future incarnations of this character could vary visually". Oh, god no. Please let this be one and done.
I'm not sure House Party is only going limited. I think that's a mistake over on BoxOfficeMojo.