Jexi Dining Table Feature

Daniel Ortberg once wrote about BLACK MIRROR that its tech morality plays basically boiled down to “What if phones but too much.” This was, of course, intended as a slashing critique of the show. The makers of the film JEXI, however, seem to have taken it seriously. Thus, this movie. Oof. I don’t mean to lay this at Ortberg’s feet, of course. He could not have foreseen this outcome. Still, what pain that pithy joke has wrought.

Jexi: Phil
For real, the promotions team on JEXI did Adam Devine so dirty in 98% of the promo pictures. This barely looks like him. (Courtesy of Lionsgate)

Other Influences on JEXI

What is most interesting about JEXI — and believe me, this is a low bar — is the other works it seems to be inspired by/aping. Besides the aforementioned BLACK MIRROR criticism, the easiest other work to point to is HER. The 2013 film concerns a far more pleasant relationship between a man and his talking phone, albeit one that probably is just as unhealthy. There, instead of Jexi (the voice of Rose Byrne) playing a kind of technological dominatrix to Phil (Adam Devine), Joaquin Phoenix’s heartbroken lead ends up falling for his compassionate supportive phone who speaks with Scarlett Johansson’s intonation.

However, JEXI actually skews a lot closer to an episode of CREEPED OUT, a British-Canadian anthology series. Think ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK? for the Gen Z set. “Marti” the fourth episode of Season 1 tells the story of a teen who buys a new phone, the titular Marti, that completely turns her life around. However, when she tries to do things on her own, Marti becomes jealous and begins to tear her life apart. JEXI even does similar gags about the phone sending everyone embarrassing photos of the protagonist and an attempt to throw away the device that the protagonist immediately takes back.

I don’t actually think JEXI copied these things, but I do think it speaks to certain ideas being in the ether and JEXI getting to them later than most.

Jexi: Cate
Alexandra Shipp unearths a corded phone in JEXI. (Courtesy of Lionsgate)

The Idea Behind JEXI

Phil has spent his life seeking comfort in cell phones. Bored at a restaurant as a pre-teen? His parents distracted him with Snake on one of the Nokia block phones. Mom and dad fighting? Use Tetris on Motorola flip phone to avoid facing that reality. Living a life you don’t really want in isolation in one of the most expensive cities on Earth? Your iPhone can do whatever you need to help you live in denial of your sadness.

However, after accidentally bumping into Cate (Alexandra Shipp) Phil becomes too distracted and awkward to protect his phone from death via being knocked out of his by a passing cyclist. Because Phil loves phones, he has to go get a new immediately. After an extensive verbal lashing by the sales associate Denise (Wanda Sykes), he acquires Jexi. Jexi despite her repeated statements that she is here to make his life better, proceeds to create chaos and havoc all over the place. And yet, Phil still makes friends and falls in love. Then Jexi really decides to hurt him.

Jexi: Denise
Wanda Sykes lectures (and lectures and lectures) Adam Devine on the dangers of tech. (Courtesy of Lionsgate)

Tech Phobia

You know these memes that show, say, a subway car in 1950 v. a subway car now and the point is everyone now is on their phone and that’s terrible. JEXI is that meme in film form.

After the brief interlude that shows us Phil’s lifelong love of phone screens, the first shot is a San Francisco entirely, ENTIRELY, filled with people walking and staring at their phone screens. EVERY LAST PERSON. Look, maybe things are different on the West Coast, but I somehow doubt it. I imagine that, much like say NYC, people occasionally look at their phones while they walk but largely do not lest they trip or get pasted by a cab.

That scene sets the tone. Phone are bad. They isolate us. They somehow, unclear exactly how, forces us to be a list writer when we really want to be a legitimate journalist. Sykes makes the same point a few scenes later during a diatribe that even her excellent delivery can’t make funny. Oh, phones are like crack? Wow, what a unique take in the year of our Lord 2019. The fact that the movie tries to take back in a late scene where Phil intones that actually phones are great but we need people too makes its earlier hamfistedness worse, not better. If you want to make a movie with some regressive, oft-repeated views on technology, commit to the bit. Otherwise, don’t bother.

Jexi: Rose Byrne in Phone Form
This is technically Rose Byrne. (Courtesy of Lionsgate)

Jexi Herself

The decision to make Jexi mostly spew invectives that question Phil’s manhood is not a great one. Any laughs the phone’s weak and, let’s be honest, toxic manhood embracing dialogue gets is owed entirely to Byrne selling it. The film’s ill-advised “sex scene” between Phil and his phone is not as horrifying (in a non-complimentary way) as it could be because somehow Byrne manages to give Jexi’s words a sense of actual desire and vulnerability.

As a character though, Jexi is a nightmare. Her earlier actions, when she is supposedly trying to help Phil have a better life, are almost uniformly destructive. She makes Phil seem incompetent, she is cruel and controlling, and she loves to mock people for their apparent lack of sexual prowess. It does not make a lick of sense and it is tough to watch.

Jexi: Duo
Charlyne Yi and Ron Funches have discomfort in a scene from JEXI. (Courtesy of Lionsgate)

The Humans of JEXI

I know Adam Devine can be a lot for people, but I generally like him. His “biggest” film role is probably in the PITCH PERFECT movies and I always thought him well collaborated for the live action cartoon that franchise needed he and Rebel Wilson to be.

Recently, however, he has been more subdue as with Rebel Wilson, again, in the meta rom-com ISN’T IT ROMANTIC. That is his gear here as well. I think he does awkward but trying fairly well and he doesn’t use any of the tricks from his louder more over the top work.

Alexandra Shipp, so good in TRAGEDY GIRLS, continues to turn in solid work in some pretty bad films. I hope she gets past her dues paying phase and back into some roles worthy of her again soon.

I always like seeing Ron Funches and Charlene Yi show up but beyond a DAYS OF THUNDER joke (that later gets echoed by Kid Cudi) they don’t get to bring much of themselves to the roles. Michael Pena is similarly underutilized but he is acting so damn hard you might not notice.

Special notice to Justin Hartley who plays Cate’s hunk of an ex with such earnestness he snagging every laugh line he can.

Jexi: Kai
Michael Pena does his best to give JEXI energy. (Courtesy of Lionsgate)

That’s a Wrap!

It’s bad. It is terribly terribly bad. Not like as bad as your phone is bad, but so incredibly close.

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