Bigbug is all bug and no feature, an obnoxious, puerile work of catastrophic indulgence from Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
Much has been made of the fact that, over the past few years, Netflix has become something of a safe haven for auteur filmmakers who have felt inhibited by the Hollywood studio system. Serious-minded adult fare has become a thing of the past in the current theatrical landscape, with critically lauded artists seeking the creative freedom and seemingly limitless budgets of major streaming services, who want nothing more than buzz-worthy content and the prestige afforded by such awards magnets as Martin Scorsese, Alfonso Alfonso Cuarón, Jane Campion, and David Fincher. In theory, movie lovers should champion such a marriage, seeing that it allows truly talented creative artists to share their singular visions with the world as a whole, profits be damned. But what most seem to forget is that for every The Irishman and Roma — major efforts regardless of your opinion on their success — we get something like Bigbug, the latest effort from French provocateur Jean-Pierre Jeunet, a filmmaker who hasn’t been relevant for almost two decades, and for good reason if his latest proves anything.
Specializing in surrealistic flights of fancy that traffic in genres as varied as horror to romance to science fiction to YA, Jeunet has always valued a sort of whimsical visual busyness above all else. His most successful films, Amélie and A Very Long Engagement among them, worked to the degree that they did because they were anchored by emotionally complex leads who exhibited something resembling genuine human behavior. When left to his own singular devices, we were given the likes of The City of Lost Children and Micmacs, soulless Rube Goldberg-esque efforts that existed solely to showcase elaborate visual design. That’s not to say these films are without their champions; truth be told and to their credit, they certainly didn’t look like the average Hollywood flick. But there was always something in Jeunet’s style that seemed a little too self-seriously cool, the work of a “bad boy” who was never nearly as bad as he assumed himself to be.
That self-congratulatory attitude is on full display in Bigbug, a film so grating that even the director’s biggest champions should have a colossally hard time defending it. Working in a mode of broad absurdist satire that would make the writers of Cracked facepalm in unison, Bigbug takes place in a futuristic France where individuals have a seemingly endless supply of A.I. at their disposal, catering to their every whim. We focus on one household in particular, where a traffic jam of people have converged for reasons too obnoxious to elaborate upon. There is the matriarch, an old-fashioned sort who still owns books and practices calligraphy; the teenage daughter; the ex-husband and his new lover; some random letch and his teenage son; and a busybody neighbor lady. They all become prisoners in this elaborate Smart Home after a race of ruling A.I. known as the Yanyx have declared war on subversive humans, locking everyone up for extermination purposes.
Meanwhile, the A.I. inside the house, including a maid and something that looks like a steampunk bust of Albert Einstein, are in the throes of an existential crisis and have begun questioning their place in the world. Like, whoa, what does it mean to be human? If to err is human, and a robot errs, does that not make it human? This paradoxical hogwash is presented by Jeunet as being the peak of philosophizing, when in reality it comes across at the level of stoner musings from some middle schoolers who just discovered Plato. Indeed, the number of times that the word “paradox” is used in this film is simply mind-blowing; it also might be the least annoying thing here. Bigbug starts out dialed to roughly 12,000 and remains at that level for 111 minutes; every line of dialogue is screamed, while the house is a Mid-century modern eyesore whose interior design resembles the bastardized love child of The Brady Bunch home and the Starship Enterprise. It’s obvious that no expense was spared here, with the majority of the A.I. rendered with state-of-the-art CGI that only looks fake and cartoonish when intended, because that Jeunet loves to just go crazy with his visuals. There is also a giant floating ship outside of the home with a bright LED screen featuring an obnoxious woman that intrudes upon the characters whenever they might be in need of a specific item; think Alexa made “real.” On the plus side, at one point there’s a major battle with a Yanyx, who proceeds to cut a lot of shit in half with his laser eyes, which is cool in theory, but it comes way too late in a film that deadens the viewer by minute three.
The human characters, meanwhile, are all flesh-and-blood cartoons whose names don’t even matter, obsessed with sex to such a puerile degree that it makes one wonder if Jeunet has actually ever had it in his entire life; these individuals make the average twelve-year-old look like bastions of sexual maturity in comparison. The film never leaves this single location or the company of its atrocious characters, making their prison our own in ways surely unintended. The film stumbles from one elaborate set piece to the next, a fade-to-black preparing audiences for the next extended bit of twee savagery while also papering over a screenplay that clearly didn’t know how to get from Point A to Point B with anything resembling nuance or creativity. It’s not an over-exaggeration to say that Bigbug could be one of the most obnoxious films ever produced in the history of the medium, a headache-inducing monstrosity in every respect. How bad is it? It’s enough to think that, if this is what creative freedom looks like, it might not be such a bad idea to bring back the money-grubbing studio heads. A pretty big bummer when a film makes you hate artistic autonomy.
You can currently stream Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Bigbug on Netflix.