Despite having too many buttcheek jokes, Despicable Me 3 comes out with far more positives than negatives, focusing on the realities of parenthood and family.
In the newest installment of the absurd and (mostly) lovable franchise, Gru is a secret agent who, along with his wife Lucy, gets fired after a particularly embarrassing run-in with this film’s villain, Balthazar Bratt. Left unemployed with a wife and three girls to feed (not to mention minions to . . . wait, are they paid employees? Or are they more like unpaid interns?), Gru reluctantly makes a trip out to meet his newly discovered long-lost twin brother, in hopes that it could lead to some sort of income. When it turns out that his brother wants to learn how to be a villain, Gru hatches a plan that could get him his life back – but could also damage some family relationships along with way.
The Despicable Me franchise has always been about balancing over-the-top comedy with heartwarming sentimentality. That’s a tough balance. And there are bright moments, but at times, it feels like the film misses that balance as much as it hits it. What could be good moments between Gru and Drew are overshadowed by the fact that the latter was created mostly as another comical gimmick for Steve Carell to play with. The script does a better job at skirting around that than I expected, but I’m never quite able to take Drew seriously, and he never feels like a character of his own. The abundance of subplots revolving around Lucy and the girls also made it seem like the writers didn’t have too much faith in their core story, as they drew attention away from it so many times. As a result, the film feels scattered and thematically confused, even if individual parts of those subplots are compelling.
And yet, with that said, the interactions between Lucy and the girls were some of my favorite parts of the film, particlarly in how it portrayed the insecurities of a parent. Some of that is due to the fact that both Gru and Lucy are quite inexperienced, but their insecurities are things I myself feel as a parent of two kids. Am I being too harsh or too permissive? Am I being a good provider? Will my kids have a good future? How can I shield them from feeling the pressures of real life without being overprotective? All of these things are explored in the film from both Gru and Lucy, and done so with a startling level of sincerity and honesty. Early on in the film, Agnes, feeling bad that her parents didn’t get a honeymoon, makes “dinner” – a soup of meat and melted gummy bears. As Gru tried to balance preserving his stomach with not discouraging his daughter, my brother-in-law (who is the father of a large family) turned to me and said, “I identify with that.”
The whole theme of parenthood is extended not only to the girls but, shockingly, to the minions as well. Per usual, much of their time onscreen is devoted to absurdist and toilet humor. And yet, they’re incorporated into Gru’s insecurities. They leave when he refuses to go back to villainy, and eventually portray a sort of homesickness as long to go back to their, err, dad.
. . .
That’s still weird to say. And I’m not even saying it out loud.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t work particularly well, and it certainly doesn’t make the film more thematically cohesive. More than any previous film, the minions feel like an addendum here rather than a part of the main story. That’s fine, I suppose, and there are some genuinely laugh-out loud moments with them, but their crudity sometimes pushes the lines of appropriate humor, and can feel like cheap shock humor. The same goes for the crude moments with Balthazar Bratt, whose previous status as a spoiled child star could have been used to make a further point about the importance of good parenting. And yet, that’s completely passed over, as though the writers made that connection entirely on accident.
All of that to say, it’s not as charming as the first Despicable Me film, and suffers from a muddled, even if well-chosen, thematic center. But it is better than the second, and in a time when the culture is rebelling against traditional family values, it’s refreshing to see a loving family built around these three girls, and some good lessons for parents in the process.