Monday, August 9, 2010

Monday Movie Day Reviews: Despicable Me

Despicable Me (2010): It's a hard life being a villain in this economy. The banks won't give you loans for your evil plans to steal famous works of art or national monuments. There are pesky international laws that prevent the theft and usage of shrink rays. And there's the responsibility of taking care of all of your semi-evil minions you've employed for your diabolical bidding.

Such is the life for Gru, the world's former top supervillain. Former, because there's a new guy in town: Vector. Gru is older, more nefarious, hardened by years of the supervillain lifestyle. Vector is the new hip villain--if you can be "hip" wearing a bright orange track suit and sporting a Jim Carrey a la Dumb and Dumber hair style. Gru wants to steal the moon. Literally. So does Vector. Villainous and hilarious conflict ensues.

On the other hand, it's also a hard life being an orphan in this economy. That's what Margo, Edith, and Agnes are all learning as they try to fend for themselves in Miss Hattie's home for girls. (Miss Hattie might be the scariest villain of all in this film). All they want is to be adopted into a home where they can finally experience the loving embrace of a parent. Their world collides with Gru when he realizes that they can innocently enter Vector's lair to sell him cookies. So he adopts them in order to use them for his moon-stealing plans.

Selfishly using orphans for your own vile scheme with the intention of abandoning them once they've completed their task? That's true villainy right there.

Thankfully, the story doesn't end here. Gru and the girls are confronted with something none of them had before--a family community. It doesn't start off that way, but compassion and joy steadily creep into Gru's heart as he begins to recognize a profound truth: love wins. As the four of them share life together--all while trying to steal the moon--Gru begins to act less like a villain and more like a parent. His transformation is quite moving, owing to the well-written script and direction of the filmmakers.

Despicable Me is a film for our times and our culture. Much of the story revolves around economic hardship and the brokenness found in many of our families. The term "family" in our society no longer means two parents with 2.5 smiling children living in a big house with a white picket fence. The family of Despicable Me--a single dad, three young adopted girls, and a few thousand pill-shaped minions--isn't that much different from our own messy families. Our eclectic families, while no longer traditional, are still families nonetheless. They struggle to take care of each other and endure hardship when it comes, but they learn and grow in their love.

(Speaking of the minions, these little yellow guys are the comedic highlight of the film. Talking in gibberish and laughing maniacally have never been so funny. And with a comedic cast including Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Kristin Wiig, Will Arnett, and Jermaine Clement, you'll surely be chuckling throughout the entire film.)

There's another family like this--the family of God, the church. We all carry our own baggage into this family, just like Gru and his ill-directed dreams to steal the moon. We were all spiritual orphans at one time, just like Margo, Edith, and Agnes. Yet God adopted us, brought us in, gave us a permanent home with Him as He dwells in us, and commands us to love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. That's hard to do sometimes. I think of Anne Rice's recent rejection of Christianity out of frustration at her fellow believers. I understand her vexation. But this isn't just an organized institution or religion; this is our family, warts and all. Yes, the church is messed up. It's made up of broken people who are in desperate need of grace. Perhaps Gru and the girls are another reflection in our culture of the beautiful truth that God designed us for community, to be in relationship with one another, to go through trials together, leaning into one another as we lean into the Divine Community that we strive to reflect.

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