Main Cast: Allison Williams, Violet McGraw

Director: Gerard Johnstone

At last! A project worthy of my talents is on the horizon. My representatives have been contacted by the producers of a new major motion picture about my taking a leading role. It’s a musical remake of To Kill a Mockingbird and I just know they need me for Scout.

We might have to adjust some of the promotional material…

Since the recent Scott Rudin stage production opened up the role for more mature actresses, I’m sure, at my forever youthful thirty-nine that I am the obvious choice.

I immediately phoned up Madame Mimi, my vocal coach, Miss Laurie, my accompanist, and Lulu Pigg, my tap therapist and told them to clear their schedules and meet me in the studio here at Condo Maine first thing in the morning to get my song and dance skills whipped back into top shape. They’re sending over a couple of the songs, by a new young composing team I’ve never heard of, for me to look over.

I just know there’s going to be a grand opening number in which Scout says hello to all the other citizens of Maycomb and then a plaintive ballad in the court house which turns into a dream ballet. I’m not sure where the tap specialty number goes though, perhaps when Atticus puts down the rabid dog.

I simply flew through my morning with the various production teams for my streaming service, VickiTube. The bookers have got a pair of rising political stars, young ladies that seem to go by the odd initials of AOC and MTG, to do a point counter point special on women’s issues on our new news and opinion program, Lester’s Testers.

It looks like they saw the same film I did this week!

We have some real vital themes for them to visit regarding hem lines and the use of casual fragrances. It’s bound to be a ratings bonanza. Of course, we’re starting off the week with me doing a segment – MNM on M&Ms where I discuss the gender of the candy mascots and footwear. It’s going to be must see TV.

As I finished things early and I was in a celebratory mood, I decided a matinee was in order, so I headed off to the cineplex. I wanted for some company, so I took my new sommelier, Jordan, as he had finished the wine pairings for the week’s meals and I wanted him to make sure we got the right vintage at the concession stand as our local movie house now has a liquor license.

I was in the mood for something light, both in terms of cinema fare and wine choice (settling on a pinot grigio) so I opted for the new horror film, M3GAN (click the link to buy and watch at home), which has become a bit of a sleeper hit . I knew little about it other than it was an update of the old killer doll tropes for a new generation so I settled into my reclining seat and hoped to be thrilled and amused. I ended up amused, but not so much thrilled.

M3GAN is the name of a next generation animatronic robotic doll thing. The name is an acronym for Model 3 Generative Android. She’s a creepy silicone and titanium learning machine with a dimple girl face who is the creation of the brilliant robotic scientist, Gemma (Allison Williams) who works for something called Funki toys. The company needs a new smash product as its previous line, furry robot pets with googly eyes that need to be fed, is being undercut by foreign knock offs.

CEO David (Ronny Chieng) wants a new generation now, unaware that Gemma and her R and D team (Jen Van Epps and Brian Jordan Alvarez) have been blowing his money on this new life size artificial intelligence companion for the children of the digital age. When Gemma suddenly finds herself guardian of her niece Cady (Violet McGraw), after her parents are killed in a traffic accident, she uses Cady as a test child for M3gan, bonding them in hopes that a new best friend might help her recover from her trauma.

But M3gan’s artificial intelligence core isn’t quite right yet and as she bonds, Heavenly Creatures style with Cady, she becomes downright murderous. Cady wants to protect her friend. Gemma is trying to fix her creation. David wants a rockem sockem new toy launch. Neighbor Celia wants to find her dog. You know where all this is going to go long before it gets there.

M3GAN is helmed by New Zealander Gerard Johnstone, relatively unknown in this country but who has had some success balancing comedy and horror on previous projects. By all accounts he is a straight family man but he has a gay man’s camp sensibility (or has a gay assistant director whispering in his ear) that allows the film to rise a few levels above the obvious paint my number killer doll sequences we’ve seen before in films like Child’s Play or Magic.

It starts with the visual look of the film. It’s obviously made on a tight budget. It takes place theoretically in Seattle but other than some establishing shots it’s obvious none of the film was made there. The residential neighborhood is full of palm trees. The forest is eastern pines, not western cedars, hemlocks, and firs. Most of the film takes place in simple interiors other than a sequence in a forest and the penultimate scene at the big toy launch, which looks like it’s attended by about fifty extras.

However, choices of design detail help us overlook all of this. Gemma’s house has interesting architectural details to its open floor plan. The blood red walls of the Funki toy company are both humorous and unsettling. And then there’s the look of M3gan herself. In her beige dress and striped bow, she looks like a diminutive Republican governor’s wife. With that look, the things she says, and her eventual violent eruption, she becomes a coded camp avatar for female rage in an age of conservatives trying to reassert control over women. And the end result drives the moments of comic brio and inappropriate laughter that resonate throughout.

I don’t think anyone behind M3GAN thought it would end up being as successful as it has been. (A gross of more than $150 million on a $12 million budget). But there you have it. It’s tapping into something in the current zeitgeist that keeps people heading out to the theater – no small feat in these pandemic times. I trust all the principal artists are renegotiating their contracts for the inevitable sequel. While the ending of the film leaves things wide open, I was disappointed in it. There are plot developments throughout that point towards a very different ending, involving cheap foreign knock offs, that would have been much more satisfying. I’ll have to assume they just didn’t have it in the budget.

The actors are all game but none of them is especially brilliant. My favorite was Lori Dungey as the rotten next door neighbor. You know she’ll get hers from her first line. Allison Williams, in the lead, has a certain amount of screen presence but it’s going to take a few more films before we all forget her execrable turn in the title role of Peter Pan Live! a decade or so ago.

The horror elements are more suspense. It’s not terribly gory or disturbing and perfectly suitable for older children (not a drag queen in sight despite the camp humor). It’s worth matinee prices and you’ll enjoy it.

Melting silicon. Bruce the robot. Nasty dog next door. Gratuitous child therapist. Pubescent brutality. Deadly paper cutter. Crying toy executives. Phone intercepts. Flaky outdoor school.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction.

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