The trailer for M3gan went viral because of the child-size robot for which the movie is named — Model 3 Generative Android, a blonde-tressed killer dolly in a pussy bow dress who performs an instantly memeable dance. But it’s Allison Williams who makes the movie watchable beyond the stuff of a few GIF-able clips. Williams, the Girls star who’s taken a recent turn toward scream queen thanks to Get Out and The Perfection, has a way with a particular brand of brittle-edged white womanhood, playing characters whose capacity for chaos previously went unnoticed because everything has just tended to go their way. In M3gan, she’s cast as Gemma, a roboticist who works at a Seattle toy company but doesn’t appear to care for children all that much. Williams plays the role with a precise, unwinking obliviousness that balances out a premise that might otherwise have come across as unbearably pleased with itself. M3gan may be an Olsen-faced murder machine who pulls the ears off bullies and warbles David Guetta’s “Titanium” to lull her human charge to sleep, but Gemma, with her utter inability to wrap her head around what it means to care for another person, is in her own way just as camp a creation.
M3gan itself is a perfectly diverting if unambitious release from the recently combined forces of horror megaproducers Jason Blum and James Wan (who has a story credit). To wish it tried to be anything more feels pointless when it’s so clearly aware that it’s giving all it needs to. It’s a little Chucky, a little Orphan, a little Demon Seed, and while it makes vague gestures toward too-much-technology panic with mentions of screen time and our overreliance on devices, it doesn’t try especially hard to be about anything larger. Written by Malignant’s Akela Cooper, M3gan was directed by Gerard Johnstone, a New Zealand filmmaker who made his 2014 debut with the delightful Housebound, about a woman sentenced to a stint of ankle-monitored house arrest at her possibly haunted childhood home. Cooper and Johnson know what they’re doing, and the same low aims that can make their movie feel desultory are at other times its saving grace. M3gan’s reach is never in danger of exceeding its grasp. It wants only to provide a diverting 100-odd minutes of horror comedy, with a heavy emphasis on the comedy.
M3gan, who’s played by a combination of actor Amie Donald and voice actor Jenna Davis, is responsible for many of the film’s laughs; she is so innately disturbing that the enthusiasm everyone greets her with is a joke in itself. But Williams, leaning into her character’s disinterest in being a surrogate mother, gets her fair share of amusing line readings. Gemma was clearly content playing the distant cool aunt to her niece, Cady (Violet McGraw), while sending her the latest Furby-esque creations produced by her workplace. But after Cady’s parents die in a car crash, Gemma has to take on responsibility for the young girl while seemingly being fundamentally unable to wrap her head around what it might mean to serve as a substitute parent. When Cady arrives at her new home, Gemma shoos the girl away from the still-in-their-packaging toys on the shelves, explaining that they’re collectibles not to be touched, and in a running bit, keeps putting the glasses Cady uses on coasters.
In one of the funnier early scenes, Gemma tells a desolate Cady, who’s still covered in cuts from the accident that killed her mother and father, that she’s really behind on a deadline, and asks the traumatized child to “hold down the house” while she does some work. Later, after pairing Cady with M3gan, she enlists her niece as part of her pitch presentation for the still-being-tested mechanical companion, then watches fretfully as the girl has a grief-stricken breakdown in front of investors, only to be comforted through it by her new robot friend. Other actors might play Gemma as chilly or tightly wound, someone cruising for a career-girl comeuppance, but Williams frames the character’s self-interest as natural and comfortable, the behavior of someone who intentionally chose to pursue her calling, and who seems to like her dabblings on Tinder and her house full of spotless furniture. Rather than a cautionary tale about the perils of prioritizing the personal over the workplace, M3gan plays as something sillier and stranger — a millennial fable about a woman trying to outsource the maternal nurturing that doesn’t come naturally to her to an android helper, who’s in the middle of her own whirring calculations about the meaning of existence.
When Gemma lays out some of the potential benefits of her creation to her avaricious boss (Ronny Chieng) in voiceover, she intones earnestly about how M3gan could take over the tedious aspects of parenting “so you can spend more time on the things that matter.” As she says this, we see her settle in cozily with her laptop. It’s a funny touch, but it’s also as oddly poignant as the song M3gan breaks into — the sight of someone who didn’t sign up for motherhood, and who really isn’t sure she has it in her.
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