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

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.

“Stranger Things 4 Will Not Be the Show’s Final Season”

ScreenRant Article by Rachel Gibson: 
Matt and Ross Duffer…announce they are not ending the series after season 4 and know how it will conclude.


If you know me at all, you know how much I love this show. Including season two, unlike the rest of the world, apparently. However, I did not love season three (also unlike the rest of the world). The seasons have grown steadily less restrained; from season one’s cool, austere tone and brilliant efficiency in its storytelling, to season three’s broad humor and presentation. Personal preferences may vary, but from what I’ve gathered, the general response from both the fandom and casual viewers alike seems to be that season one continues to reign supreme among the three. I’m left to wonder if the show overall has strayed into “too much of a good thing” territory. That said, when the credits rolled on the final episode of season three (prior to the post-credits scene), I was a bundle of mixed feelings.

*minor spoilers ahead*

The thought of never seeing the characters again – leaving most of them suspended in circumstances that ranged from bittersweet and sad to disheartening and inconclusive – the idea of never returning to wrap up certain arcs? It stings.

At the same time, I also found that the massive reveal in the season four teaser trailer did not generate excitement or relief, but frustration. I’m glad that a certain character will make a return – that he’s not, yanno, dead – but I feel unnecessarily emotionally manipulated. Almost resentful over the emotional turmoil we were put through last season, just to have it get magically undone. Somehow. Because reasons. Meanwhile, I  can also appreciate the difficulty the creators were faced with because it’s been my belief that the show had neither reached a natural conclusion nor has it struck an organic flow to continue.

So, the ScreenRant article’s headline may have induced a heavy sigh from me, but the content therein actually led me to be cautiously optimistic. I still think the sentiment of “know when to walk away,” is called for, but this specific quote jumped out at me:

Ross [Duffer] went on to explain that the Covid-19 pandemic has given them the time to reflect on the direction they want to take the show in. They have been able to fill out more of the story’s plot and have discovered just how long they will need to finish the story while giving the series the best possible ending.

I personally felt that season three felt uncharacteristically rushed, even a bit bloated. There were definitely aspects that I enjoyed – I continue to be impressed with Steve Harrington’s growth as a character, I’m completely on board for more of his friendship with Robin (not to mention Robin as a character overall), and the scenes between Karen and Nancy Wheeler are some of the best scenes in the whole series. I loved getting to see Lucas land some seriously impressive blows with the wrist-rocket, Alexei was a delight, as was Murray speaking Russian and his eventual bonding with Alexei, Dustin calling Erica out for being a nerd was super satisfying, and – separate from the “Neverending Story” sequence – I love Suzie and hope to see her return in the seasons to come. 
 
Still, those positive pieces felt outweighed by the bigger missteps, where it seemed to lose focus, lose the emotional connection with some of the characters (namely with Mike and Hopper). So I’ve got my guard up. Reading the SR article, though, if the Duffers really mean what they say, if they’re sincerely taking advantage of this forced pause in the proceedings and they’re actually building towards a deliberate conclusion rather than just keep barrelling on ahead without any clear finish line, then I’m on board to at least give it a chance.