Film Review: Free Guy (no spoilers)

Spoiler-Free Review!


Free Guy (2021)
Director: Shawn Levy
Writers: Matt Lieberman, Zak Penn
out of 4 stars.

I’m pretty neutral on Ryan Reynolds. I enjoy his brand of comedy for the most part but my interest in Free Guy sparked almost entirely from the casting of Joe Keery and that Shawn Levy was the director (because I’m a huge Stranger Things fan). In looking over Levy’s filmography as part of my research for my Coffee & Contemplation podcast, I realized that I often like his style and the stories he tends to tell; in particular, the Night at the Museum franchise, Arrival, The Famous Jett Jackson, and, obviously, Stranger Things. Like those properties, Free Guy seemed to be another effective blend of pastiche and originality. Plus Taika Waititi was in the cast, too? Sign me up.

The film itself far exceeded my expectations. Free Guy is celebratory rather than pretentious in its homage. While others are citing The Truman Show, The Lego Movie, and Wreck-It-Ralph as influences, I also detected a lot of the original Tron. Yet Free Guy carves out its own style, its own characters. How it manages to do so is nigh untraceable but it doesn’t really matter because you’re too busy enjoying the result. There are scant few things I didn’t enjoy about it — more on that later — and even in the spots where it doesn’t quite work, there’s a palpable spirit of enthusiasm. Some reviews criticize the film for not delving deeper into the more serious questions and concepts Free Guy indirectly presents — the nature of Artificial Intelligence, corporate strategy, sequels versus original IP, what qualifies as a soul — but I would argue that the film doesn’t avoid these subjects outright, either. The trailers also make it very clear that deep, intellectual exploration is not the point here. Science-Fiction is rife with such explorations and there’s plenty to be found elsewhere if you’re looking for that. In Free Guy, meanwhile, you can expect a buoyant, fun energy at its core. However, I was surprised at the — go with me — level of subtlety at play. No, seriously. There is no shortage of loud, brash, even salacious humor but it never goes too far off the rails and is even quite effectively balanced by some aspects that practically fly under the radar, along with some surprisingly sweet messages.

The real-world and Free-City-world feel equally balanced along with the arcs of the characters in each, both in the writing and the visuals. The cinematography (George Richmond, Rocketman) deftly shifts between cinematic and gaming styles. The cameos and Easter eggs are present and delightful but don’t distract from the center narrative. Guy’s story is our A-Plot, the Soonami story is the B-Plot, but the characters’ comparable screen time, combined with (I believe) dynamite performances by Jodie Comer and Joe Keery, Lil Rel Howery, Utkarsh Ambudkar, and Britne Oldford, all synchronize successfully. Many critics are ragging on the real-world characters but I buy the characterizations and believe their performances are deeper than they’re getting credit for. Where some have cited that the Soonami storyline drags the film down in the middle, I would question whether Guy’s story — genuinely fun and entertaining though it is — would be able to sustain itself alone, without a supporting plot. Maybe, but I, for one, appreciate the range.

The only pieces that didn’t work for me mostly surrounded the underuse of Taika Waititi as Antwan and some of the humor. For all that the marketing emphasized his role, Waititi seems to be doing a lot with so very little. The film’s antagonist might be the one aspect where the film would have benefited from easing back on the humor in favor of complexity. Waititi would have been more than up to that task; but perhaps it weighed the film down too much? In any case, I’m hoping for a plethora of deleted scenes awaiting us on the eventual Blu-ray. And, apart from that, I found myself tired of the “gamers are lame dudes who live in their mom’s basement and never get laid” joke even just after watching the multiple trailers. It’s directly at odds with the appearances of Professional Streamers. I’m not sure that we needed that particular brand of degrading humor in a movie that is otherwise very uplifting – even respectful – of gamer culture.

Beyond that, though this is an overwhelming net positive. I already want to see the film again and look forward to the conversations that it will inevitably inspire. Will it change the world? No, but it is a huge mood boost, and amongst these dark times, sometimes that’s exactly what we all need.


Read Christopher Llewellyn Reed’s Film Festival Today review here!


Film Review: Free Guy (spoilers)

This review contains spoilers.


Free Guy (2021)
Director: Shawn Levy
Writers: Matt Lieberman, Zak Penn
out of 4 stars.

I’m pretty neutral on Ryan Reynolds. I enjoy his brand of comedy for the most part but my interest in Free Guy sparked almost entirely from knowing that Joe Keery was in the cast (because I’m a huge Stranger Things fan) and also that Shawn Levy was the director. In looking over his filmography as part of my research for my Coffee & Contemplation podcast, I realized that I often like his style and the stories he tends to tell; in particular, the Night at the Museum franchise, Arrival, The Famous Jett Jackson,and, obviously, Stranger Things. Like those properties, Free Guy seemed to be another effective blend of pastiche and originality. Plus Taika Waititi was in the cast, too? Sign me up.

The film itself far exceeded my expectations. Free Guy is celebratory rather than pretentious in its homage (Tron, anyone?) yet carves out its own style, its own characters. How it manages to do so is nigh untraceable but it doesn’t really matter because you’re too busy enjoying the result. There are scant few things I didn’t enjoy about it — more on that later — and even in the spots where it doesn’t quite work, there’s a palpable spirit of enthusiasm. Some reviews criticize the film for not delving deeper into the more serious questions and concepts Free Guy indirectly presents — the nature of Artificial Intelligence, corporate strategy, sequels versus original IP, what qualifies as a soul — but I would argue that the film doesn’t avoid these subjects outright, either. Many critics are ragging on the real-world characters but I buy the characterizations and believe their performances are deeper than they’re getting credit for. Where some have cited that the Soonami storyline drags the film down in the middle, I would question whether Guy’s story — genuinely fun and entertaining though it is — would be able to sustain itself alone, without a supporting plot. Maybe. But I, for one, appreciate the range. The trailers also make it very clear that deep, intellectual exploration is not the point here. Science-Fiction is rife with such explorations and there’s plenty to be found elsewhere if you’re looking for that but in Free Guy you can expect a buoyant, fun energy at its core. However, I was surprised at the — go with me — level of subtlety at play. No, seriously. There is no shortage of loud, brash, even salacious humor but it never goes too far off the rails and is even quite effectively balanced by some aspects that practically fly under the radar.


SPOILERS AHEAD!

Continue reading

Farewell to a Favorite Podcast

In March, one of my favorite podcasts ended. And I’ve been trying to understand why it hurts so much. Here’s what I came up with.

I am fully aware that I am far from alone in experiencing the worst of times. For me, one of the worst parts of the pandemic, early on, was the all-encompassing silence that swooped in last year – especially after my Dad passed away on April 1st. At night, after a phone call disconnected, while cooking a meal, after I’d turn the TV off, even while I was working. As an editor, my work is not silent, but only up until recently, I needed some sort of wordless ambiance running in the background; ASMR, usually. It was almost like being afraid of the dark. I was tuning out my grief and my worry over friends and loved ones. I was scared to even move. So many of us were turning to tv shows, movies, books, and podcasts. For me, it was Downton Abbey, the Six of Crows Duology, and the “Hey, Do You Remember…?” podcast.

Wearing my very own “Cool Kid” HDYR merch.

I can’t recall how exactly I stumbled onto “Hey Do You Remember…?”, but I’m glad I did. I became a fan of the trio (sometimes quartet) of people talking, laughing, bantering over films of various genres because their dialogue reminded me of the way I talk film with my own friends. It felt familiar in a way few other podcasts do.

In the Before Times, I looked forward to every new episode and once 2020 walloped us all, I ventured back to the podcast’s backlog frequently. Despite listening for several years, I’ve been reticent in my appreciation towards the show and didn’t engage much as a listener. I now regret not reaching out to the hosts, Chris, Donna, and Carlos, and also to the other fans as well. Something to learn from, I suppose.

What I’m getting at here is that the media we all clung to, amidst the chaos, fear, and bereavement of the past year – the same media that we will likely continue to rely on in the days ahead, even with flickers of hope on the horizon – it’s valid. It’s important. The laughter, the honesty, the community, it’s what’s keeping a lot of us afloat. In my experience, no hyperbole, it’s one of the key things that kept me sane, kept me going, kept me me.

HDYR was incredibly inspirational and influential for me in starting my own podcast and will likely continue to inspire as I move forward with other personal creative projects.

So: I want to express my gratitude for this podcast in particular, as the HDYR gang switch off their mics (at least on this pod, and at least for now). I’m thankful that the backlog of episodes will remain active for the time being and I’m grateful that, while the podcast is ending, the friendships are not (Carlos said so!).

So, to whoever may read this: whatever it is that’s kept you going, kept you as healthy and grounded as could be expected through 2020, I’m glad you had it.

Having Way Too Much Fun

One of the unexpected delights of working on a podcast has been creating the audio previews. I enjoy making captions anyway – even for my professional video work – and mining each episode for snippets, choosing backdrops, and creating these little sneak peeks is way more fun than it should be.

Our listenership is small at this point, but I’m having a blast with the project, and it’s proven to be a healthy distraction during such a turbulent year, which, in my estimation, deems it worthwhile investment.

That said… [shameless plug incoming]…if you haven’t checked out the podcast but have even a smidgen of interest in Stranger Things, 80s pop culture, nerdy stuff, or intellectual tv/film analysis, wander over and check out Coffee & Contemplation!

“Mornings are for Coffee & Contemplation.”

I’m a podcaster! The first episode of my new podcast, Coffee & Contemplation is now live. It’s a journey back through the world of Stranger Things from a post-season three perspective. Expect spoilers, in-depth, close readings of the story and technique behind the series, and gushing over our favorite moments and characters.

You can listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and more, and join the conversation on Facebook and Tumblr.

New Endeavors

I’m embarking on a new project: podcasting.

New and improved home workstation. Soundproofing is turning out to be an ongoing learning experience.

I’ve been working from home since mid-March, a move that has been challenging, alienating, and limiting. Enlightening, in a way, as well; I never before realized how much I enjoy the community aspect of my work, how closely I have been collaborating with my coworkers throughout my career, and how much I would miss being in the office and on set! Additionally, my friend and I recorded two episodes of our fledgling podcast back in February and since we recorded together, that had to be put on hold until we could either once again record in person or figure out a virtual method that would allow us equal sound quality.

So here we are: almost six months later, finally getting back into the swing of it. And after all this time of fear, isolation, and both of us grieving the loss of family members, we are jumping back into this project and I could not be more grateful. It’s been so long since I have felt this creatively driven. Multiple late nights have already been spent sound mixing and editing, leaving me tired, but regret-free.

I can’t wait to share the project when it’s ready!