The Mitchells vs. the Machines is an adorable coming-of-age comedy suitable for all the family. More impressive still, the film moves beyond the cliché of a coming out story to deliver a young lesbian protagonist whose sexuality is embraced by both her parents. The fault lines in the Mitchell family dynamic have nothing to do with their daughter being lesbian.
Katie Mitchell can’t wait to go to college. She’s spent her life making movies, which her classmates laugh at and her family don’t understand. Katie has an easier time connecting with the internet than her parents. But now Katie’s going to film school, where she dreams of finding her people. There’s just one problem. The robot apocalypse hits right in the middle of her journey to campus.
The last thing Katie wanted was to travel cross country with her family. But the Mitchells, in all their dysfunctional glory, are forced to work together as a team. Humanity’s last hope lies in a survivalist dad, new age mom, tech-savvy Katie, and her dinosaur-obsessed little brother.
Though colorful and brash, The Mitchells vs. the Machines is in many ways an introspective film. The most powerful scenes revolve not around fights between human and android, but Katie’s desperation to fly the nest; the particular sadness of struggling to connect with a person you love dearly. And while the animation style can get intense, with a near-relentless stream of emoticons, the quirky aesthetic brings Katie’s imagination to life.
As Katie reveals that she’s “always felt a little different than everyone else”, a giant rainbow flashes across the screen. This motif appears throughout the film, a symbol of Katie’s creativity and self-expression. There’s even a rainbow pin on her hoodie throughout. Combined with Katie’s converse and the riot grrrl inspired tunes she dances to in her bedroom, the message is clear.
Fortunately, Katie Mitchell isn’t just coded as a lesbian character. The promise of representation is delivered. Her crush, Jade, is a big part of the reason she’s so desperate to reach film school. And by the conclusion Katie and Jade are an established couple. The Mitchells even invite Jade home for thanksgiving over Skype.
From start to finish, modern technology is integrated into the film. YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, FaceTime – perhaps one day these references will date The Mitchells vs. the Machines, but today they are what make it so marvelously of the moment. The movie dives headfirst into widespread anxieties about our growing reliance on tech.
With the dramatic flair of Steve Jobs unveiling the newest iPhone, Mark Bowman reveals the robots designed to replace his AI system, known as PAL. If Siri and Alexa had an English AI baby, PAL would be that child. Er, consciousness. Voiced by Olivia Colman, PAL goes from perky home assistant to genocidal maniac in the time it takes Bowman to toss her in the trash. As the robots drag Bowman away by his designer hoodie (a clear nod to Facebook mogul Mark Zuckerberg), it is impossible not to think the tech billionaire got what he deserved. But PAL wants revenge on the whole of mankind.
The Mitchells vs. the Machines talks a good game about our overdependence on screens. But it’s ironic that a story about the perils of constantly consuming media is being distributed by Netflix, as the streaming platform played a huge role in the cultural shift towards binge-watching. Netflix has forever changed our viewing habits. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
As the lesbian films in Katie’s queue show, we can access more stories that reflect our lives than ever before. Without Netflix, The Mitchells vs. the Machines may have become another casualty of the pandemic. But now it’s the third most popular movie on the whole of Netflix, and with good reason. The Mitchells vs. the Machines has something for audiences of all ages, the power to appeal both inside and out of the gay community.
The Mitchells vs. the Machines is now streaming on Netflix.
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