REVIEW: The Mitchells vs. The Machines

The Millennial and Gen Z generations do not trust you. That is what basically every poll conducted in the last five years has indicated. Forbes reports that the one of the most recent Deloitte Millennial Surveys indicated an over 20% drop in the trust these generations have in businesses and corporations. A recent Harvard Institute of Politics poll showed that the majority of the people in these generations are fearful about the future of our country. Barna found in 2019 that 82% of young adults say society is in a leadership crisis. Our next generations have lost trust with nearly every institution and system we have to offer and, yes, that includes the institution of family and, more specifically, our parents. Looking at these numbers it’s hard not to feel the weight of this trust gap between younger and older generations. That is what made Netflix’s The Mitchells vs. The Machines such a welcome comfort.

Mitchells is largely about what family looks like in our modern context, but central to this story is the strained relationship between Rick Mitchell, a well-meaning but old fashioned and stubborn father, and his daughter Katie who challenges nearly every expectation Rick has had for his children. It is difficult to really define when the rift between Rick and Katie begins or why it’s happening. There isn’t a big traumatic family experience that splits them or, as many of us have experienced, some kind of deeply rooted ideological difference that is causing division. They are simply operating with the values systems and expectations of their respective generations. They just don’t get each other. Somewhere they stopped operating on the same, Rihanna-fueled wavelength and they stopped trusting each other.

The Mitchells vs. The Machines GIF Family

Now, Katie is headed off to the college for the first time, but before she goes the tension between her and her dad bubbles all the way to the surface and pops. For this tight-knit, loving family, this feels like the apocalypse. Lucky for them, an actual apocalypse steps in and takes the Mitchells on an adventure that just might bridge the generational gap. While taking Katie to film school, the inevitable artificial intelligence uprising happens and the newest gadgets from a pseudo-Apple tech company starts capturing every human being on the planet to eradicate the human race. What a great time to bond as a family!

The Mitchells vs. The Machines comes to us from the producing team of Phil Lord and Chris Miller who have been changing the game in animation since their surprising hit The Lego Movie and their Academy Award winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Both of those high-profile releases carried quite a bit of public skepticism going into them. Many thought The Lego Movie was going to be nothing more than an extended commercial for the brand. Sony’s film studio had been fumbling their big Marvel Comics property for years with a string of failed franchise-starting Spider-Man projects and were muddying the waters with an animated movie when it seemed like they were finally on track with a successful new Spidey in Tom Holland. Lord and Miller crushed those fears, though, and gave us two of the most compelling and heartfelt animated movies in recent memory. Mitchells is no different.

The Mitchells vs. The Machines GIF Katie

In terms of family entertainment, the big streamers haven’t exactly been churning out high-quality fare. They know parents will look for any brightly colored animated distraction to keep their child’s attention for any period of time. The Mitchells vs. The Machines is far from a mere distraction, though. It truly has something to say and shows that streamers can develop creative and thrilling animation on whatever budget is available. With Mitchells, there is the 3D animation we expect these days, but it’s used with thrilling expertise providing some really stunning sequences like a mall being torn apart by an army of Furbies. In, perhaps, an extension of the lessons learned on Spider-Verse, they combine that 3D animation with Katie’s 2D doodles over the entire story. It deepens her character and gives the movie a unique and fun visual style.

On top of the animation, Mitchells is just plain funny. Most of the jokes do hit especially since they are delivered by the likes of Maya Rudolph, Danny McBride, Olivia Coleman, Beck Bennett, Fred Armisen, and Eric Andre. In between the laughs, though, Mitchells really does do some thoughtful meaning making about that growing generational gap. Neither Katie nor Rick is let off the hook for not trusting the other. The film shows that they both have things to offer, and both have a lot to learn from the other. In that Barna study, one of the top reasons for our young adults seeing a leadership crisis in society is that the older generation aren’t actually allowing them to lead, and there are a lot of areas where our younger generations are ready to lead right now. At the same time, they need experience coupled with the guidance, support, resources, and consistency of our older generations.

It is true that our younger generations don’t trust their elders, but trust is a two-way street. The generational gap continues to grow when we fail to trust in our younger generations as well. Their total lack of loyalty in the systems and institutions we often cling to can feel apocalyptic. Like they just want to burn it all down, but what if we did trust that they are seeing something older generations haven’t. What if even a little bit of trust was extended? Wouldn’t younger generations be more likely to produce at least a little bit of trust in return. We may want to try it before the actual end of the world comes.

The Mitchells vs. The Machines is streaming now on Netflix.

The Mitchells vs. The Machines GIF Furby

Looking for new shows to watch this summer?

For many of us summer means a change of pace, and a chance to relax and try new things. Our regular shows have wrapped for the season, or we’ve blown through our favorite re-watches for the 8th time, and we need something new to watch on those rainy days or when the temperatures get too hot for outdoor activities. Here are some TV shows currently available on streaming services that you might not have heard of but could find interesting. Nearly all of them are breaking new ground in representation and storytelling, so they are great additions to your current go-to’s. There’s something for everyone on this list!

Rutherford Falls – Peacock

This is a delightful and incisive comedy from Ed Helms and Michael Schur (The Office, Parks and Rec) about a historic town in NY state navigating its colonial and Native history. Not only is this a witty comedy, but it features the largest Native writers room in comedy history, and a Native showrunner and creator, Sierra Teller Ornelas. It’s funny, warm, and thought-provoking!

Content rating: PG for occasional mild sexual innuendo

High On the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America – Netflix

Part cooking show, part African American historical legacy, this show is unique and powerful. Only 4 episodes, chef and food writer Stephen Satterfield explores the culinary roots of Black cooking from Africa to Texas. Part of what makes this show so special is the space it creates for Black people to talk to each other about legacy and identity and belonging. Each episode is full of historical excavation, pride, tenderness and mutuality. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, don’t miss it.

Home Before Dark – Apple+

Do you ever wish all these crime dramas could be mixed with precocious little girl energy? I didn’t know that’s what I needed until I started watching this show. Inspired by a real 9 year-old investigative journalist named Hilde Lysiak, the show creates a wonderful young lead similar to Hilde but with a fictional town and cold case that she has to solve. It’s a wholesome family drama about processing trauma and grief with a local mystery intertwined.

Content rating: G, the first episode contains verbal descriptions of the trans-Atlantic slave trade that will be painful for some

Content rating: PG there is no violence or descriptions of abuse, but the subject matter of a child abduction may be intense for young viewers

Hacks – HBO Max

If you don’t already love Jean Smart, you will after watching this show. Hacks is a thought-provoking comedy about what it means to be a female comedienne and what previous generations had to navigate to pave the way. This first season is still finding its way with working out a few of the characters, but it’s worth a watch!

Content rating: PG-13 for some sexual conversations, no nudity or sex depicted

The Underground Railroad – Amazon Prime

Director Barry Jenkins’ labor of love, this show is based on the novel of the same name. The novel explores the idea of what it would have been like if the underground railroad was a literal railroad underground. It is beautifully filmed and acted, with an intense but powerful portrayal of Black dignity in the face of oppression (a particular strength of Jenkins’ filmmaking). You will likely need to pace yourself and some may want to refrain from watching all together, but if you can handle the intensity of the subject matter, you’ll find a rich and compelling narrative.

Content rating: R for explicit racial violence

Girls5eva – Peacock

This one goes out to all the elder millennials who came up on girl groups and boy bands! Girls5eva is a hilarious and warm comedy about a washed-up girl group from the 2000s who are trying to reconnect with each other and make a comeback. The cast is fantastic, featuring Sarah Bareilles, Renee Elise Goldsberry (Hamilton), Busy Philipps, and other Broadway stars Paula Pell and Ashley Park. These women are so funny and the writing is smart and a snarky revisiting of pop culture in that era.

Content rating: PG for mild sexual innuendo

Shadow and Bone – Netflix

Sometimes you want an elaborate fantasy show but aren’t sure if it’s worth getting to know the lore and characters if the writing will just end up being bad. Shadow and Boneis a fun escape that’s worth the investment. The world is well-crafted, the characters are endearing, the special effects are good, the cast is talented and diverse, the season is well-paced, and we know we’re getting a season 2!

Content rating: PG-13 for some implied sexuality and mild violence. Likely appropriate for teenagers but check the parent’s guide first.

WandaVision – Disney+

A lot of people have been talking about this year’s spate of Marvel TV shows, and for good reason. But a lot of you have told me that you stopped watching WandaVision after the first couple episodes, so this is my apologetic for why you should revisit it. The format of the first several episodes is that of the classic TV sitcom, starting with the style of I Love Lucy and ending with the style of Modern Family. Some found this format confusing and boring, but what you need to know is that WandaVision is fundamentally a show about grief. It is about the desire to disassociate from a painful reality and immerse oneself in a fun and entertaining distraction. About the longing to return to one’s happiest moments shared with your loved one and try to stay there rather than move forward. The style of the first 7 episodes is very purposefully painting a picture of what Wanda is experiencing internally after the trauma of losing Vision, and how she is making sense of it. Don’t expect huge character reveals, there will be no appearances from Dr. Strange or Mephisto, this is a contained and powerful exploration of the grieving process. It features incredible performances from Olson, Bettany, and Hahn, and one of my new favorite quotes: “What is grief if not love persevering?” Give it another watch!

REVIEW: In the Heights

Nina stands up from her old wooden bench in the middle of the park and presses against the chain link fence. She locks her fingers around the twisted metal and sighs, “Let me just listen to my block.” This is what Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda is inviting audiences into with his 2008 musical In the Heights, which has finally been released as a major motion picture (another one of those delayed 2020 releases). The musical centers around the Washington Heights neighborhood in Upper Manhattan where Miranda grew up and now most of us can return to theaters and listen to this vibrant and resilient block.

In the Heights Dance GIF

Miranda says that he began writing In the Heights because, as a Latino man, he didn’t feel seen on the stages he dreamed of working on. That is ultimately what Heights is about; dreams, what they’re made of, and the dreamers who dare to have them. “On these blocks, you can’t take two steps without bumping into someone’s big plans,” says Alejandro, a lawyer friend helping main character, Usnavi, accomplish one of his. As with many marginalized communities, though, dreams are sometimes easier dreamt than realized, and that is true of the leads in Heights.

Vanessa wants to open her own designer fashion boutique only to fall short on the impossibly high credit requirements needed to rent the space. Nina is incredibly gifted academically and has her family sacrificing everything so she can attend Stanford only to be met with debilitating isolation and constant microaggressions. Usnavi’s younger cousin Sonny can’t wait to contribute to the world, but actually is a Dreamer living in the Heights undocumented. Each character, and really the entire block, is on the string of a yo-yo bouncing back and forth between fighting for their dreams and then feeling their dignity stripped away pushing their dreams farther and farther into the future. Push and pull. Up and down.

In the Heights Nina and Benny GIF

There are times when you can see each character feel their inherent, human dignity. Vanessa wearing her power blazer and clutching her sketch book of designs as she finally has enough money saved for deposits on her rental space. Nina’s father, Kevin, with a goofy smile on his face seeing his college student daughter sitting across the lunch table. Then the yo-yo drops back down. It is hard to chase your dreams when you’ve lost your sense of dignity. That is why the great John Perkins would often say, “You don’t give people dignity. You affirm it!” That is exactly what community matriarch, Abuela Claudia, does for the young dreamers in her neighborhood.

“We had to assert our dignity in small ways,” Abuela tells Nina, “Little details that tell the world we are not invisible.” How do they do that in a neighborhood and a system that often feels like it’s holding them back? There is a palpable tension here between needing the community of the Heights to survive but looking at the sky and seeing a world far beyond the island that they’re on. Their grandparents, parents, and other family members left dire circumstances as outlined in the passionate ballad “Paciencia y Fe (Patience and Faith)” to bring them to this block, but many feel like the only way they’ll achieve their dreams is by leaving it.

How did Miranda find a way to affirm his dignity? Well it’s in the notes, the lyrics, and the moves of In the Heights. He felt like he was being ignored and so found a way to communicate his experiences so that others had to listen. There is so much life in the show itself, but then Warner Brothers combined Miranda’s vision with the direction of Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians). If you’re familiar with his previous film at all, In the Heights is like the visually stunning wedding scene in Crazy Rich Asians turned up even further.

Chu managed to make a movie musical that feels like a stage production while also feeling like you are in the middle of this neighborhood and the character’s lives. In a story about a place, the Heights really do come alive and act as a character in the film in so many ways. It will be hard for some to not compare Heights with legendary, groundbreaking productions like West Side Story. That film took home the Oscar for Best Cinematography in 1962, and rightfully so, but here we are now in 2021 and Chu and his team have redefined what we can do with the movie musical going forward. I will say now having seen it twice, once on the big screen and once streamed at home on HBO Max, Heights begs to be seen at the theater with an unreasonably big screen, booming speakers, and a sticky floor to tap your feet on. If you are ready to safely return to theaters where you are, then this would be a great movie to do it with.

In the Heights Lin-Manuel GIF

The success of In the Heights on Broadway no doubt paved the way for Miranda’s incredible success. Hamilton was next and then it was a line of Disney projects like Moana and Mary Poppins. It is safe to say that Miranda is a genius, he was a recipient of a MacArthur Genius Grant in 2015 after all, but is that what it takes for people to listen to your story? The real genius of Miranda’s work is that he has been able to create roles for himself while also shining a light on the stories of others who may feel the way he does. Who knows who might feel heard and seen in this story and what they’ll create?

In the Heights has the opportunity to place you exactly where the title says. In some ways it’s a fantasy, like most movies are, of a place where dreams come true. It’s also a reality of hardships unique to people of color and the communities that weather those hardships together. It is a great addition to the American song book if we are willing to lean in and listen.

In the Heights is currently in theaters as well as streaming on HBO Max.