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Free Guy (2021)


Ever watched a movie where you’re too old to understand anything that’s happening? And your son – who’s found the only joy in his fifties is checking his pension fund and jeering at the young – also doesn’t understand anything that’s happening? And your grands and great-grands are the only ones capable of explaining who the characters are, how they relate, what their powers are, why they’re in a computer-generated world? And yet you all get the jokes?

Yup – old Jack here needed to bond with the generations he’ll leave behind. There was a brief lull in the COVID-hiding, so young Steve brought his sprogs, one brought his new sprog (Self-Shitting-Simon), and, together, we were dazed, bemused, thrilled, and tickled by Free Guy (2021).

And so should you be. Another of the oddities on Disney+, and an ever-so-slight dim-kid-risk (DON’T DO VIOLENCE, MORONS!), we packed the TV room on an autumnal Sunday to have meaningful ignoring-each-other-family-time. As usual, Steve had told his lot it might be the last time they saw old Jack before I ooze through a wicker coffin onto their new shoes. So, we ploughed through the inter-generational resentment as Ryan Reynolds gave his “Blue Shirt Guy”, a pretend person in a pretend world game thing. 

Yup – computer games. The young play them so you don’t have to. Old Jack tried once, to appease one of the grands. I stood in the corner, twirling and shooting the ceiling on a “training-level-for-fuck’s-sake-Grandpa”.  So – to possibly over-explain for the seniors here – and I don’t give a toss how wrong this is…

Blue Shirt Guy is a character in a computer world. He is not “playable”, but others are. They are played by people in the real world. Blue Shirt Guy pootles about in a cycle of pre-programmed drudgery; he is one of many atmosphere-generating also-rans. 

Times have changed, apparently, and gaming people are using deodorant now and many are women [female by the (C) Traditional-Definition-So-Fuck-Off]. A playable female character portrayed by Jodie Comer in the game (all sexy specs and swagger) is played by a real woman in the real world played by Jodie Comer (all cardigans, really). Her game avatar mumbles a song near Blue Shirt Guy, and he starts to go weird. He breaks the drudge of his game life and – on advice – starts to win the thing through good deeds. 

Now…In the real world… Ms Comer also wrote the game, which, much like the makers of Shredded Wheat did to the dinosaur who took the first shit, was stolen by an evil corporation led by an evil bastard played in fluid, evil style by Taika Waititi. Boo! Hiss! Also – huzzah! Excellent! (And old Jack has been informed, for ‘game’, read ‘source code’…so, don’t worry, it doesn’t matter…)

Is this making sense? Reynolds does a charming Pinocchio as he gets his bearings on feeling stuff (he has a thing for swaggery, sexy, spectacled women in leather trews, but who doesn’t?). We follow real-world Ms Comer and her real-world buddy as they hunt the magic code in the public game. Or something. And then things go nuts.

To be honest, old Jack didn’t understand anything in the last hour. There were set-pieces, deft comic performances from all, a butch character with Reynolds’ face, a city being squeezed and a fight in a computer-centre… Stuff. But what stood out was the total charm of the thing. Reynolds goes from comically dazed to joyously, nay nobly, focused. Comer’s avatars become an honest representation of the real-world character’s drive for justice, and the peril this creates for the good humans and the friendly avatars. And Waititi throws himself about in an edgy pantomime of capitalist’s greed. Give me the money and fuck the creatives…well polished clichés you don’t mind at all.

It is a sweet thing to see the grands laughing from their bellies, the next generation smirking and nodding knowingly, and to sit back, delighting in their delight, and loving this big, loud, modern, silly but textured film. Really. It’s fun. And you don’t need to understand a word to recognise a kind-hearted morality play shine through with modernity, decent effects, and a properly funny script. Even the sadness that hangs over Blue Shirt Guy, for he is “an unplayed character doomed to be rebooted” (thank you, Steve), affects all the generations.

And there’s a moment of sexy style on a motorbike. With guns, a pretend boy, and a pretend girl. We all whooped at that.

Sundays can be good. 

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