Friday, January 27, 2023

"M3gan": two-paragraph review

the uncanny, dead-eyed M3gan

In a world of $200 million blockbusters, a $12 million movie like 2023's "M3gan" was made on a shoestring budget. Directed by Gerard Johnstone and starring Allison Williams, Violet McGraw, Amie Donald, Jenna Davis, Brian Jordan Alvarez, Jen Van Epps, and Ronny Chieng, "M3gan" tells the story of little Cady (McGraw), whose parents were only recently killed in a car accident. Cady goes to live with her aunt Gemma (Williams), an AI toy designer who, not knowing anything about how to take care of kids, pairs Cady up with a new AI invention called M3gan, a four-foot-tall, creepily lifelike doll that imprints on Cady but, because it was given a learning and "self-improvement" algorithm, soon escapes human control, all while remaining faithful to its initial imprinting onto Cady. Gemma has an annoying neighbor (Lori Dungey) with a vicious dog; Cady gets bullied by a truly nasty kid at camp. In both cases, M3gan is there to, shall we say, sort these problems out. Being a robot that can go inert at any moment, M3gan escapes detection when the police come snooping around. Gemma's hectoring boss David Lin (Chieng) finds out about M3gan, one of Gemma's side projects, and he plans a huge product reveal in the hopes of creating the ultimate interactive toy for kids while thoroughly thrashing the competition. You can imagine how that goes. Ultimately, it comes down to who will be the better caretaker for Cady: M3gan or Gemma. And M3gan sorely wants the job.

You've probably heard a lot of commentary about the movie already, most of which can be summed up as, "This is ostensibly a movie about AI gone wrong, but it's actually an issues movie about the value of human connection, which can't be replaced by AI." Fine, I agree with that assessment. And while some of the horror was enjoyable on a PG-13 level (things never get too gory), I found the character of Gemma to be fairly unsympathetic and unlikable, and I was also somewhat annoyed by Ronny Chieng's performance as Gemma's boss David. Violet McGraw gives a solidly hangdog performance as a child who's understandably sullen after her parents' death. M3gan, as an AI, presents all the usual implausibilities (e.g., where did its emotions come from?), but the main problem I had with it was its ability to cheer Cady up. Cheering Cady up after the tragedy she'd suffered is a huge plot point, but how does a woman like Gemma, who has no idea how to take care of children, program her AI so uncannily well as to take care of Cady? You might argue that M3gan, thanks to her learning algorithm, picked up on childrearing techniques over time, but no—M3gan was child-friendly from the get-go. This plot hole was enough to take me somewhat out of the movie. It didn't help that M3gan looked in several scenes as if she'd been mocapped (Amie Donald was, in fact, the human behind M3gan's physical performance, with Jenna Davis providing the voice). All in all, the AI-related implausibilities weighed the movie down for me, and while "M3gan" was entertaining on a superficial level, it's many attempts to be a deeper "issues" movie backfired. I did enjoy watching the bully get his comeuppance, though. Nice.

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