‘Free Guy’: Why Millie and Keys Are the Heart of the Movie
Article from Collider.
Though Free Guy has Ryan Reynolds front and center, it’s the slow-burn romance between Jodie Comer and Joe Keery’s characters that power the movie.
With Free Guy now available to stream on Disney+ and HBO Max, as well as being available on home video, you can now watch one of the biggest films of 2021 in the comfort of your own home. Not only is it funny and action-packed — and proof that Ryan Reynolds can break out of his Deadpool persona when given the chance — it also proves that, in the age of blockbusters and franchise films, there’s still a foothold for original ideas on the big screen. It also happens to feature one of the most touching love stories from a recent blockbuster movie, but not for the reasons viewers may think.
The marketing for the film teased a love story between Guy (Reynolds) and Molotovgirl (Jodie Comer) within the world of the Free City video game. The twist is that Molotovgirl is the avatar of Millie Rusk — a real-life programmer seeking to prove that Free City developer Antwan Hovachelik (Taika Waititi) stole her code from another game and used it for his own game. Complicating matters is the fact that Millie’s programming partner, Walter “Keys” McKey (Joe Keery), is currently working for Antwan.
Though Free Guy spends lots of time detailing Guy’s crush on Molotovgirl, there are hints sprinkled throughout the film that Keys has romantic feelings for Millie. The first hint comes during an interview where Keys and Millie talk about Life Itself, their game that had its code stolen. The reporter interviewing them picks up on their natural chemistry and asks if they’re a couple. Millie laughs it off and clarifies that their relationship is platonic — they’re just co-workers and friends. Keys, however, hesitates before agreeing with her, the first sign that he doesn’t quite share her views on that matter.
Another major hint lies in Guy’s interactions with Millie and his near-superhuman knowledge of her interests. Guy has a deep love of bubblegum ice cream and the songs of Mariah Carey (particularly “Fantasy,” which plays multiple times throughout the film). And he takes his coffee in a medium-size cup with cream and two sugars — just like her. Though at first this sounds like the work of an extremely dedicated stalker, Keys eventually reveals that he programmed Guy to be pining after a girl he’d been searching for all his life and, to make it feel realistic, he based it on his own long-held feelings for Millie. “The girl of his dreams, she was the same as mine,” he confesses. Keery sells this moment for all it’s worth, with his pauses and tone giving off the air of somebody who’s has a massive weight lifted off his chest. As Guy tells Millie in the film’s ending, pointing her to toward flesh-and-blood man she should be paying attention to: “I’m just a love letter to you. Somewhere out there is the author.”
A more subtle hint about the connection between Guy and Keys comes from both of their clothing. Guy is usually shown wearing a blue shirt of some kind, whether it’s his bank teller uniform or other shirts like his trademark Henley. The color blue is also sprinkled throughout Keys’ wardrobe. When he first logs into Free City, his avatar is wearing a blue police uniform. His glasses have blue frames. And at the end of the film, when he embraces Millie, he’s wearing a blue shirt, just like Guy. Additionally, Guy also turns out to be the key to finding the stolen code from Life Itself, as he is “awakened” and begins to deviate from his programming. After a series of events, he manages to find proof that the code is hidden beyond Free City’s borders. That “awakening” only happens when he encounters Millie in-game. The code was literally designed to work with her in mind. It’s the final piece of proof that Keys loves her; he poured everything he didn’t know how to say into this character, and it ended up leading him to her.
A love story means nothing without two actors who can sell it, and Comer and Keery have genuine chemistry that propels their characters’ romantic union. Millie’s anger at Keys stems from a place of hurt that he didn’t stand by her when Antwan screwed them over. In turn, Keys feels extremely guilty over his actions and can barely look her in the face. And when Millie reveals that she kissed Guy in-game, shock and a hint of jealousy flicker across Keys’ face. Yes, it was virtual and, yes, he technically did pour himself into the character, but he still feels jealous of a digital character — a bit of an odd predicament that Keery manages to sell completely. It’s the same mix of emotional vulnerability and comedic timing that helped Keery flesh out Steve Harrington in Stranger Things, which Free Guy director Shawn Levy also produces.
Thankfully, the movie’s ending also feels more natural than what co-screenwriter Matt Lieberman originally intended. Lieberman planned to have Guy and Millie/Molotovgirl continue their relationship, but discussions with Reynolds and Levy caused him to rewrite the ending so that Keys ended up with Millie. “Nobody could really rationalize a person having an extended stay as bit and bytes,” Lieberman told Collider’s Christina Radish when Free Guy opened last summer. He also pointed to the Patrick Swayze/Demi Moore romance in Ghost as inspiration for Free Guy‘s ultimate ending. “We thought, ‘What’s the Ghost moment?’ It was definitely tweaked from the first iteration of the movie. How does Guy end up, after saying goodbye to Millie? How do you wanna leave Guy? We knew that audiences would just wanna know that he’s gonna be okay and that he’s happy, and I think they nailed it.” Guy eventually reunites with his friend Buddy (Lil Rel Howery), which ends up being his happy ending. (Plus, it saved Lieberman and Zak Penn, who was also credited on the final script, a host of potentially derogatory comparisons to Spike Jonze‘s AI/human romance Her.) Meanwhile, the slow-burn relationship between Millie and Keys will hopefully continue to expand in Free Guy‘s planned sequel.