Review: The Mitchells vs. the Machines

The Mitchells vs. the Machines screenshot

Year: 2021 | Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Wow, The Mitchells vs. the Machines was…surprisingly and aggressively bad. To be fair, it’s really the third act where the whole kit and caboodle completely and utterly falls apart. The film starts off well enough with some good, slow family drama that you don’t always see in animated movies like these. The middle of the movie starts to have some problems, mostly with plot logic issues, but there’re some funny moments sprinkled in and it’s at least engaging. But then the last third makes absolutely no sense, triples down on the cutaways that were only mildly amusing to begin with, and doesn’t earn a single one of its attempted emotional beats. I’ve never seen a film go from a solid three stars to one star so quickly. Seriously…the folks at Sony Pictures Animation do know that smartphones have been water resistant for like a decade, right? It’s asinine.

It’s also interesting to me that this is a movie with a pretty conservative message. The dad (Danny McBride) is kind of an asshole, especially at the beginning (although there’s not that much redemption beyond the superficial), and a major takeaway from the movie appears to be that kids should cut their parents some slack because they’re “trying their best.” If Rick Mitchell was trying his best as a dad, then he’s just a flat-out terrible father. And it’s not the responsibility of children to just “accept” the shortcomings of the people who are responsible for molding them into functional adults. Those shortcomings can really fuck up kids for life, man. The dad was wrong at every turn, and at best, the movie takes a very “both sides of the argument” approach; at worst, it just sides with the dad. It’s obvious that co-writer/director Mike Rianda has much more in common with Rick than he does with Katie (Abbi Jacobson), and doesn’t even try to hide it. And that’s not even mentioning that the family travels to Washington, D.C. to accept the Congressional Medal of Honor at the end of the film, which based on the timestamps on the videos through the film, was still during Trump’s presidency, even though it was released after Biden had taken office. This is an unashamedly Republican movie.

The movie also delves into straight-up Don’t Look Up (2021) territory with its “commentary” on technology and the “young people’s” use thereof. You know, everybody is so attached to their devices that they would literally walk into the apocalypse before they took their nose out of their phones, etc. Meanwhile, Rianda shows a near total ignorance and/or disregard for how that technology actually works, resulting in a very “old man yells at cloud” vibe. It also seems like Sony is pretty mad about being pushed out of the cell phone market and felt the need to take as many thinly-veiled shots at Samsung, Google and (especially) Apple as it could, but again, there’s no evidence at all that Rianda has even a rudimentary understanding of how those companies’ products work.

And finally, The Mitchells vs. The Machines tries to score its seemingly mandatory “representation” points by casually mentioning that Katie and her new friend (Sasheer Zamata) at college are dating at the literal very last minute of the film, which absolutely does not count as queer representation. It would have been much more impactful to make the little girl (Charlyne Yi) that Aaron (Rianda himself in an egregious miscast) has a crush on a boy and not mention or acknowledge it at all throughout the entire rest of the film. That would have been ground-breaking queer representation, and it would have changed absolutely nothing about the story. Instead, the “representation” we’re given feels like an item checked off of a list rather than any sort of actual effort to relate to queer kids. We have to demand better representation and stop giving studios credit for the scraps that they are throwing to us to placate us. LucaEternalsThe Mitchells vs. The Machines…all films released just in the past year that got praised for their “portrayals” of alternative sexualities without actually portraying anything at all. It’s clearly a trend, and if we send the message that this is the standard of representation that we’re willing to accept, then that’s all we’re going to get.

Given the critical and audience acclaim that it has received for almost the past year, I am shocked by how much I disliked The Mitchells vs. The Machines. Certainly one of the biggest disappointments of 2021 for me, which it saddens me to say.

Language: English
Genre: Animation, Comedy
Runtime: 1 hr. 54 min.
Rating: PG

Director: Mike Rianda
Starring: Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Olivia Colman, Michael Rianda

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