Jexi and all the images you see in this review are owned by Lionsgate
Directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore
We are still VERY much in catch up mode right now and it’s starting to get a bit distressing as more and more movies I wanted to see close to leaving theaters, but at least I managed to catch THIS one which somehow got to my second run theater a good three to four weeks before I would have expected it to! You know how I found out that they had it? I USED MY PHONE!! It all connects if you look hard enough! Anyway, does this story about a phone with a heart of gold and the mouth of a sailor manage to be a biting and hilarious critique of how we interact and even bond with our electronic devices, or is it just a silly movie about the kids these days and their addition to screens? Let’s find out!!
This is the story of a man named Phil (Adam DeVine) who spends all his time on his phone and has no connections with anyone else; especially at his job where he writes top ten lists for a website run by the maniacal Kai (Michael Peña). I’m not sure why he has to go to an office to do that, especially since he doesn’t seem to get anything out of being around other people like his coworkers Craig and Elaine (Ron Funches and Charlyne Yi), but that’s his life and he seems to be content with it. Until of course his phone breaks after a run in with a local bike shop owner named Cate (Alexndra Shipp) and he has to go buy a new one which seems simple enough but turns into madcap hilarity when the AI assistant turns out to be a wise cracking, truth telling, emotionally berating, hard ass named Jexi who doesn’t put up with ANY of Phil’s crap and tries to get his life in order if for no other reason than how embarrassing it is to be around him. At first it seems to work as her tough love advice leads to him making friends at work, expanding his horizons a bit, and even landing a date with Cate, but once the job of fixing him comes closer and closer to being finished what is left for Jexi to do? Can Phil put his life back on track and learn to be the kind of person those MILLENNIALS ARE RUINING EVERYTHING articles wants us to be? What will Jexi do once she’s no longer needed and Cate starts to horn in on her territory? Is this what the AI in HER would have acted like if she was the star of that Joker movie?
I was actually enjoying myself quite a bit in this movie for the first half, but it just has no idea where to go or how to get there that everything ends up falling apart in the end. It’s almost inexplicable how bad this movie gets by the end of it considering where it started and what it was doing right, and I was almost ready to declare it BETTER than Brittany Runs a Marathon (or at least more targeted to my taste) but everything you thought this movie would be based on the silly premise and sillier trailer comes to pass with a resounding thud and a yawn of frustration. There’s a lack of discipline on display as it seems to get bored with what is ACTUALLY working about the movie far too quickly to make room for what are essentially SNL skits for a good chunk of this movie, but instead of breaking up the drama with a bit of levity and comedy relief, it just undermined an unexpectedly interesting story.
What works about this movie is that, at least at first, it understands how to write a ridiculous premise like this in a way that’ll get the audience to believe in it; mainly by not making it the central pillar of the movie’s narrative. If you can invest your audience in something AROUND the ludicrous element, then it gives them something else to focus on with the wild card element being more of a support to the central theme. This is why I thought the movie was a better version of Brittany Runs a Marathon because the point of this movie is for our main character Phil to take control of his own life and to comment on the socially isolated state of many millennials in this late-capitalism heck-hole of a society. Phil is exaggerated to be sure (I’m not sure how many people ACTUALLY love their phone the way this guy does), but he does a great job of portraying someone in that rut who doesn’t even realize how miserable it’s making him. With this being the core element that the movie is about, Jexi the magical AI that swears a lot and basically works like Skynet crossed with Hal 9000 can just exist in this world without much question. Since the movie is ultimately ABOUT Phil, it doesn’t matter where Jexi came from or how; what matters is that she’s the chaotic element that’s putting him on this path towards self-improvement in her own abrasive way, and Rose Byrne puts a lot into the performance.
The problem is that the movie didn’t know to quit when it was ahead and so in addition to the solid story of a guy growing past his anxieties and loneliness, it’s ALSO a send up of the Spike Jones movie HER and this is where things start to completely fall apart. There’s a character change in Jexi that feels completely inexplicable given everything we’ve seen up to that point that puts her squarely at the center of the film’s narrative which is the last place she should be considering it forces us to raise those questions that the film had skillfully avoided by making it about Phil. Once Jexi becomes a force to be reckoned with it just loses the humanity that had made the movie interesting the first place; though I will say that that aspect of the movie was wearing a bit thin by the time we get the switch in tone and priorities. Of all the improvements in Phil’s life I thought that his relationship to Cate was the one came off kind of bland and unfortunately that was what we were ultimately leading to which feels a bit… passé I guess? Maybe it’s just me, but I got a lot more out of his friendship with Craig and Elaine as well as the kickball team than the rather rote and predictable arc their relationship goes in which follows the Manic Pixie Dream Girl to formula an obnoxiously close degree. Where Brittany Ran a Marathon stayed at an agreeable level before cratering in the third act, this one started pretty high for me but what was good about it just kept getting stripped away more and more until there was practically nothing left to recommend by the time it wraps up its ridiculous yet utterly predictable story.
Even with the latter half completely losing the point, there were still a few things that kept my interest throughout. It’s got a GREAT supporting cast for one thing; especially Wanda Sykes who just shows up to tell Phil how pathetic he is, and there are very few who can tear down a dude as well as she can. Michael Peña is… broad in this movie and I can see him getting REALLY grating for a lot of people, but his utter enthusiasm coupled with how much every else loathed him worked a lot more than it didn’t for me, so he gets added to the GOOD THINGS column as well. I mentioned his friends Craig and Elaine earlier and for what little they have to do with their combined five minutes of screen time, I thought it worked and their budding friendship was really convincing while Cate just kept getting less and less so as she had to spend more time with a guy who, let’s face it, is still not in a particularly good place in his life even if he is making improvements. A more honest and fulfilling movie would have gone in a VERY different direction with that, but for what it is I guess she plays the part just fine.
There are a lot of really bad comedies each and every year and the few that aren’t terrible are usually worth watching. This one just barely scrapes by with a mild recommendation as it just doesn’t come together very well, but the good ideas shine and that first half is definitely worth seeing. Check it out once it gets a home release, or better yet wait for someone to put the good clips on YouTube so you can just watch it on your phone. Presumably while driving because YOU CAN’T TEAR YOUR EYES AWAY FROM A SCREEN FOR FIVE MINUTES, CAN YOU MILLENNIALS!?