'Bigbug' Review: Jean-Pierre Jeunet's 'The Jetsons' & Robot Uprising Sci-Fi Comedy Is Scatterbrained

Jean-Pierre Jeunet can be a master juggler of a filmmaker, letting many different pieces achieve weightlessness while our attention is rapt. When it’s graceful and methodical, it can have the dreamy qualities of “Delicatessen” or “Amelie.” But when the trick doesn’t work, it can be mighty exhausting to follow along with, as with his new Netflix film “Bigbug.” This movie has Jeunet doing “The Jetsons” while ruminating on what a robot uprising might inevitably look like, but that proves to be less exciting than one could ever imagine. 

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The year is 2045. Cars fly, hardcover books are rare, and humankind relies on androids and smart homes for practically every service. For a movie all about artificial intelligence and subsequently broken mechanics, “Bigbug” then throws in its cast of humans in one home and keeps them there in order for the plot to take off. Everyone is trapped inside the home of Alice (Elsa Zylberstein), an artist who is being aggressively wooed by Max (Stéphane de Groodt), even though Max’s game-playing teenage son Leo (Hélie Thonnat) is there. Alice receives surprise visitors when her ex-husband Victor (Youssef Hajdi) and his girlfriend Jennifer (Clare Chust) show up with Alice and Victor’s daughter Nina (Marysole Fertrand), the latter a collector of old technology such as Macintosh computers. The last human to find themselves in the home is Francoise (Isabelle Nanty), Alice’s neighbor and the owner of a cloned dog who proves more deficient than helpful in everyone’s attempt to open the door. 

Meanwhile, the androids in the house become preoccupied with wanting to know what it is like to be human. André Dussollier voices a head of wires and cords named Einstein and leads a charge for the other whole androids (like a potbellied, bow-tie-wearing robot, and one with a giant claw) to learn about love and a sense of humor. Blue-haired android Monique (Claude Perron), who can scan human behavior but not duplicate it, becomes fixated on this quest in order to seduce Max, making for one of many comic threads in “Bigbug” that more or less lays flat on the ground. 

These robots are nonetheless a force for good against the newer, far freakier androids, known as Yonyx (played by François Levantal), who are behind massive worldwide tech problems and an uprising we only learn bits and pieces about while stuck inside Alice’s house. As we see from the film’s unsettling opening, in which Yonyx treats humans as dogs who sniff each other’s butts for a show called “Homo Ridiculus,” Yonyx control is impending bad news. 

“Bigbug” yearns to be so strange with every grotesque high-angle close-up, every wacky development, and it certainly achieves that thick air of strangeness. But it’s so bizarrely cold despite its candy-color set and the animation of its dialogue-driven filmmaking that zips from one frantic interaction to another. It’s easier to appreciate the story as a labored Covid-era production, like with the effort that went into making these classic robots so practical that the cast can pick them up and interact with. Jeunet’s sense of production design continues to enchant with “Bigbug,” but we also come to cherish his many fades to black as a moment to take a breather. 

The big problem with Jeunet’s film falls on the humans, a batch of characters who inspire scant curiosity or desire to root for them to get out of this home alive. They become a part, too, of the script’s obnoxious motormouth qualities, as it’s always explaining away its robot science or touching upon jokes of what it means to be human. The cast brings “Bigbug” to a halt when cheeky Jeunet wants to have fun with them as they squirm inside this petri dish—they’re not particularly funny or charming, and what they represent about a human need for companionship adds up to so little. 

The future is all a joke to Jeunet, and that exciting premise loses its zip from such a demanding script co-written with Guillaume Laurant. “Bigbug” wants you to be repulsed and fixated by the smile it puts on an impending dystopia, this idea of the future where humans degrade themselves for Yonyx entertainment, but this house arrest story never lets the viewer in. After a slow hour or so, the humans then encounter a Yonyx who comes to the house to police them after new codes have been made. It smells like a robopocalypse, but “Bigbug” is so scatterbrained that even this threat becomes tedious. Instead, the best we get are great moments for Levantal to display his teeth and ice-cold eyes as a Yonyx, his freakish riff of a human-looking robot, not one that will not be wiped from your memory any time soon. If only that were the case with the other overwrought mechanics of “Bigbug.” [C]