“Your Life, Simplified.”
That’s the slogan for “Kimi,” an all knowing, do everything virtual assistant. It’s basically an upgraded version of the Amazon Alexa, but with one key twist – there’s a team of people whose job it is to listen to conversations of various consumers, taking miscommunication between human and the device to improve Kimi’s script code. Does this sound like surveillance? It certainly is! But the makers of Kimi would argue since the eavesdropping is selective (coders only hear audio when the Kimi device misunderstands a command) that this doesn’t count as surveillance.
Enter Angela (Zoe Kravitz), one of those aforementioned coders. She’s an agoraphobic whose anxiety of the outside world has been eased by the isolation of the pandemic. Angela spends her day snooping on neighbors, cleaning her aligners, and flirting with her FWB from across the street. But when it’s time to sit at her desk and do work, she’s locked in – transcribing scripts to fix the gaps in knowledge in the Kimi device. These scenes are so expertly edited and sound mixed, I could watch 20 minutes of Zoe Kravitz making code to teach Kimi about Taylor Swift’s discography. However, the leisurely busy work turns serious when Angela overhears distressed audio, which leads her to believe she’s encountered a murder.
Kimi is the latest film from the prolific Steven Soderbergh, the director who just never stops working. It seems just months ago, No Sudden Move was hitting HBO Max, and now he’s back again. If you told me he was releasing another movie next week, I’d believe you. But Soderbergh’s work ethic is admirable, along with his willingness to tackle the present day. While directors of his generation and his caliber have seemed to exclusively make period pieces (or occasionally stories set in the distant future), distancing themselves as far away from cell phones and social media as possible, Soderbergh has bathed in the now. No Sudden Move is an anomaly in a recent filmography that includes Logan Lucky, Magic Mike, Unsane, and The Laundromat. Not only does he have in interest in modern topics, but he does so across an array of genres while playing with the form, and evolving the medium in unique ways. He filmed Unsane entirely on an iPhone, yet you’d never know unless someone told you.
In Kimi, Soderbergh rails against corporate spying, government laws that favor the rich and punish the homeless, and the culture of sexual assault. As Angela tries to investigate the potential crime, she sees just how limited her options are, discovering a network of corruption meant to suppress her. However, I question her decision making within her investigation. She’s warned early on that the company she works for has no interest in solving potential crimes that Kimi overhears. It would make sense for this millennial to completely distrust the channels of power within her employer. Instead, she puts blind faith in them which betrays the nature of her character, when she should be more apt to go directly to authorities.
Some of these breaks in logic extend to the latter half of the film. It becomes clear who the antagonists are and why they desperately need to wipe away all evidence. This makes Angela their target. However, for a situation so deathly serious, these antagonists sure are underarmed, and a bit stupid. There’s too many examples of bumbling incompetence from who seem to be experienced criminals. Kimi is at its worst when it indulges the worst aspects of its genre. This is not to say we can’t have fun in this type of movie, because we should. But we should still tighten the screws on the film’s logic to accentuate that fun.
When Kimi is at it’s best is when DOP Peter Andrews goes to work. The cinematography is rich, often manipulating space and angles like Andrews is painting on a canvas. We’re treated to a couple of chase scenes, which are angelically disorienting, and the cool-color asthetic is an effective mood setter for this thriller. But what the cinematography can’t do is untangle some of the script’s pitfalls. Namely, that the character of Angela is hampered with a multitude of challenges as if it’s a checklist of character flaws.
Angela doesn’t need to be an agoraphobic, especially considering she already works from home. It seemed like this idea came about as a means to critique how we use technology as a means to stay indoors, but it would have been far easier to just depict the social and consumer habits of millenials and Gen Zers. Then, you could actually explore the reasons behind, and the remedies for, our need for isolation. There’s also a side plot about Angela’s tooth aches, which only briefly (and I mean bbrriiieeeeffllyy) become relevant to the plot, and it exposes how the various levels of adversity are not woven into the plot. This makes Kimi a bit underwhelming in its execution. It has a great premise, but doesn’t nail the promise of all its table setting. It’s disappointing because the film’s heart is in the right place, as Kimi’s themes are aiming for a level of emotional clarity within our whirlwind of a world.
Since the critiques of technology and corporations are so overt, viewers may neglect Soderbergh’s more “lower stakes” criticism of modern relationships. The representation of a relationship in Kimi is initially reduced to one dependent entirely on sex. In a pandemic altered world, it’s easy to assume that some relationships will see their genuine social interactions decrease, with sex replacing much of our emotional connections. Kimi argues that we should strive for something better. That devices that can react to our every command can not replace a flesh and blood partner. Soderbergh has always expressed interest in the way our flaws make it difficult to foster intimate relationships, from as far back as his superb debut: Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989). But his characters often overcome these obstacles, thus obtaining the companions they richly deserve. For a film as flawed as this, this depiction of adversity in humanity is still a necessary inspiration in a world like Kimi’s, and the reality it sadly mirrors.