Between Laughter and Melancholy

Free Guy is an exciting sci-fi comedy with something poignant behind the laughter. While the romance plot is disappointing, mashups of real and virtual world lead the audience back to classics.

By Manny Li

Picture: Via Pixabay, CC0

As a sci-fi comedy, the movie Free Guy is an unbelievable mashup of cyber game, lover story, AI fiction and reality. Director Shawn Levy animates an obscure non-playable character (NPC), bank teller Guy (Ryan Reynolds) in the game Free City, who is unaware that he is a video game character but thinks of himself as living in paradise. Although his home is a crude and perfunctory model with a goldfish and many dull blue shirts, he is happy with his daily ritual of coffee in the morning, chatting with his good friend Buddy and greeting everyone with his trademark phrase »don’t have a good day, have a great day«. As an NPC, he is accustomed to performing when the bank he works for is raided by armed robbers, until his encounter with Molotov Girl, avatar of the gamer Millie (Jodie Comer), who activates his AI codes written by Millie’s start-up partner Keys (Joe Keery). Although Guy has not yet realized that he is a background character, who cannot interact with a real gamer, a vehement desire for love pushes him to get close to Millie.

Guy snatches a gamer’s sunglasses with which he can watch the world of players. He is like Adam who steals the fruit of wisdom, but his God (the game developer Keys) is not able to expel him from the Garden of Eden, as Guy is a component of this particular paradise. So Guy is supposed to reach at least level 100 before he can speak to Millie. He levels up at an astonishing speed rising to fame in the real world. Many programs and internet influencers are seized by Guy and Millie is fascinated by him as well. However, the plot does not develop toward an affectionate romance between human and AI, but switches to the coding copyright issues between Millie, Keys and the game company of Free City.

Lame Romance

Free Guy

USA 2021
115 minutes
Director: Shawn Levy
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Taika Waititi, and others

The love story of Guy and Millie is overall rather disappointing. Obviously, Levy finds a new perspective that allows human to enter the world of artificial intelligence, which is different from the most works that rather locate AI in the human world. But this interesting start point does not differentiate Free Guy from other similar films so much. Guy’s crush on Millie leads the first half very well as their love story has novelty, which will strike a chord with game-player audiences.

Unfortunately, the director seems unsure how to deal with the relationship between Guy and Millie in the second half. The interference of Keys ruins their love story and starts another odd romance. It is difficult for the audience to root for the love between Keys and Millie due to lack of convincing hints. The happy ending of Keys and Millie’s love sacrifices Guy’s subjectivity. The most poignant scene is when Guy tells Millie: »I’m just a love letter to you, somewhere out there is the author«. So neither romance plot lines succeed in moving viewers.

Excellent Mashup of Genres

Free Guy is a mix of video game elements, cyberpunk, pop culture, fan service and parodies of other films. In terms of entertainment, Free Guy is completely able to please and relax the audience, but it certainly will mostly amuse viewers who are familiar with video games. It is full of references: Reynolds’s playful monologue at the beginning of the film points directly to his movie Deadpool. The chaotic game scenes have shadow of Super Mario Bros., Grand Theft Auto and Fortnite etc. Guy’s weapons include lightsabers, Captain America’s shield or Hulk’s fist. The character Guy himself is an homage to The Truman Show. In other words, the movie is a feast for game players and movie enthusiasts.

Of course, it is a pity that such an immense number of mashups violates the depth and seriousness of the theme. But even as a funny character, Guy not only amuses us, but also encourage us to be the hero of our own life. As the pandemic is raging, Free Guy lets us temporarily forget the boredom and isolation in reality. As Guy puts it: »Don’t have a good day, have a great day.«

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