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Galifianakis is delightfully deadpan and weird in Ron's Gone Wrong.20th Century Studios

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Ron’s Gone Wrong

Directed by Sarah Smith and Jean-Philippe Vine

Written by Peter Baynham and Sarah Smith

Featuring the voices of Zach Galifianakis, Jack Dylan Grazer and Ed Helms

Classification G; 107 mins

Opens in theatres Oct. 22

Critic’s Pick

Watching Ron’s Gone Wrong was a strangely emotional experience. My children and I went to a theatre to watch a promo screening, where they saw other kids and parents in the audience. We bought a large bucket of popcorn with butter; who knows when I’ll be in a theatre with them next, I argued to myself as the concession stand dude poured an extra layer of butter into the bag. Although we sat in our little bubble of seats, and didn’t chat with anyone else in the theatre, just the idea of watching a film together undoubtedly added to my reaction to this film about childhood friendship.

Bizarrely, I think I got more out of Ron’s Gone Wrong than my children. They enjoyed the movie for all the shenanigans that the central character Barney Pudowski (Jake Dylan Grazer) and his malfunctioning B-bot (Zach Galifianakis) get up to, with added comic relief from the antics of a butcher’s knife/power drill wielding Bulgarian grandmother Donka (Olivia Colman). As they were chortling in their seats, I was revelling in all the subtexts woven into the plot.

Socially awkward Barney lives in a could-be-right-now-or-near-future small town America, with his widowed father Graham (Ed Helms), an unsuccessful salesman of novelty products, and Donka, a self-confessed anti-Communist matriarch with a hilariously immigrant spin on the can-do spirit.

While Barney wheels himself to his middle school on a creaky scooter, every other student arrives at school with a B-bot, a Baymax-meets-R2D2 style robot that’s booted with a friendship algorithm. The B-bots match their owners with other like-minded children who share interests, and help them play together in fun ways. It’s all great until the safety controls are on.

After forever feeling left out, Barney manages to get a B-bot of his own for his birthday. Except his B-bot isn’t able to offer the best friend out of the box experience because Barney’s B-bot got a little dinged. However, this malfunctioning B-bot whom Barney eventually names Ron manages to have Barney reflect on the true nature of friendship. It’s a two-way street, after all.

The bond between Barney and Ron is clearly the reason this movie works.20th Century Studios

Eventually the malfunctioning Ron comes to the attention of its creator Marc Wydell (Justice Smith) and his senior partner Andrew Morris (Rob Delaney). While Marc is exhilarated by the idea that Ron somehow has achieved a level of friendship that his algorithm couldn’t unlock, the money man Morris is more interested in how to profit from B-bots. All this results in a grand adventure that proves transformative.

The bond between Barney and Ron is clearly the reason this movie works. Galifianakis is delightfully deadpan and weird, natch. Grazer (whose seeming confidence was charming in Luca) plays Barney with a likeable vulnerability. Releasing at a time when we’re – yet again – questioning the tech world’s hold on our lives through algorithms and data-mining, Ron’s Gone Wrong is also relevant for the adults in charge of the various family devices.

Can technology help you make friends versus trying to make friends IRL? The film doesn’t attempt to give us the answer. By now, many of us – hopefully – understand that while we can’t totally escape our devices, we need to regularly look up from our screens and interact with the humans in our lives.

For now, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for schools to remain open, and children interacting with each other versus meeting each other in Zoom rooms.

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.