Ron’s Gone Wrong was reviewed at the BFI London Film Festival, where it made its world premiere. It will hit theaters on Oct. 22.
Ron’s Gone Wrong. That title tells you pretty much all you need to know about this charming yet subversive kids’ film which takes a hilarious swipe at big tech and social media. Thankfully, the laughs come thick and fast in this quirky, offbeat comedy which also asks an important question: do kids today spend too much time online?
Middle school can be a hostile place, especially when you don’t fit in. Barney Pudowski (Jack Dylan Grazer) is the ultimate high school weirdo – a geology-obsessed nerd from a poor Bulgarian-immigrant family, growing up in small-town America. His dad (Ed Helms) is a sad-sack widower, while his granny, Donka (Olivia Colman), is a Borat-esque, goat-tending maniac. Sure, dysfunctional dynamics are nothing new when it comes to family films, but in an era of Snapchat and Instagram, Ron’s Gone Wrong also shows us why growing up can be difficult if you don’t keep up with the latest trends.
Especially if literally everyone else at school is.
Introducing the B-Bots, the new must-have toy that follows you around, plays games, helps you with your homework, and chronicles every moment on social media. Bubble CEO Marc (Justice Smith) says it’s all about helping kids connect with each other – a new way of making friends. But what happens when you can’t afford one? Poor old Barney finds out first-hand as he’s literally benched by his former friends in favor of the hottest new toy. It’s a dilemma that has plagued parents for decades. Do you give in and spend several months’ wages on a toy that will be shoved in the cupboard within weeks? Thankfully, Barney’s dad finds a way to get one of those sought-after B-Bots on the cheap.
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But the defective B-Bot is not all it’s cracked up to be.
Ron (Zach Galifianakis) has… well, he’s gone wrong. Astoundingly wrong. Much like Barney himself, Ron isn’t like everyone else. He’s especially unlike all the other B-Bots, programmed to connect and network and mine personal data like it’s going out of fashion. Instead, Ron is a bit wonky, and it turns out that buying a broken bot that’s fallen off the back of a truck wasn’t exactly the best idea. Poor Ron has connection issues, an incomplete database and a goofy smile that channels Baymax from Big Hero 6. Throw in some grossly inappropriate behavior and you have all the makings of a children’s classic.
Although Ron may be a bit rough around the edges, he’s also exactly what Barney needs. Sure, that’s a story we’ve seen in kids’ films many, many times before. But the addition of social media and other thoroughly modern pressures stops Ron’s Gone Wrong from feeling stale. Instead, this contemporary twist tackles growing up in the social media age like nothing we’ve seen before. Barney’s old friends are so obsessed with their B-Bots that they’ve forgotten what it’s like to really live. Recess revolves around bot fights, streaming, and publishing memes to millions of followers. But Ron has a better way.
At its heart, Ron’s Gone Wrong is a brutally cutting examination of the effect big tech has had on childhood innocence. The savage one-liners and hilarious mishaps often have the same message – that kids aren’t kids for long anymore. Throw in some genuinely hilarious gags and a touching relationship between a boy and his bot, and Ron’s Gone Wrong has all the right settings. It helps that Ron is just so strangely adorable.
Zach Galifianakis is excellent as Ron, a weirdly robotic voice role which provides endless opportunities for goofiness. Comedic timing is the name of the game, and with a steady stream of quips and cheerfully brutal asides, Ron provides comedy gold by the terabyte. Olivia Colman as a cleaver-wielding, eastern European pensioner is a stroke of genius, too. It’s not the kind of role you expect to see her in, but after a stint in The Mitchells vs The Machines, it looks as though she’s something of a go-to for kids’ films about crazed robots.
“Are we having fun with me?” asks Ron at one point.
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That’s essentially what the whole film is about – are you really having fun with your expensive new toy? Or would you have a whole lot more fun experiencing the world, running and playing and even messing things up a bit along the way? Ron’s Gone Wrong suggests that the best way to network is to get offline and talk to a stranger. It’s a cute message, but there’s a lot more to the film besides. B-Bot creator Bubble provides the opportunity to poke fun at Silicon Valley with a cool, hip tech-bro CEO and his right-hand man, a Steve Jobs-like executive who wants to make billions with everyone’s data.
Ron’s Gone Wrong is much like the quirky B-Bot at its core: a bit wonky with a whole load of charm. What begins as a laser-targeted, precision-engineered family film soon becomes a bit more unhinged – and that’s definitely a good thing. The jokes are as unexpected as they are ingenious, and with a heartfelt story at its core, Ron’s Gone Wrong sets up belly laughs with surprising regularity. You’ll never hear the old dial-up modem tone the same way again.