Synopsis – In this cautionary tale, three people struggle to preserve their identities as they form an eccentric love triangle within the fast-moving internet age.
My Take – I think we all can agree that YouTube bought a revolution no one saw coming, a revolution further progressed when they decided to provide its users a chance to earn through their content by adding the monetize option, hereby giving birth to the influencer culture. A culture which allows some decent, but mostly annoying formerly ordinary people to record their hidden talents which can range from makeup tutorials to a simple walk in the park, all in order to pocket by reaching millions of people around the globe.
While the quest for viral fame continues to be without limits, with newer set of social norms brought in almost every week, here, director Gia Coppola, granddaughter of Francis Ford Coppola, in her second directorial effort after 2013’s well-received Palo Alto, tries to satirize this culture by tapping into the zeitgeist.
The result, however, is mixed-bag. There are several flaws, primarily in the storytelling and messaging aspects that conveys that YouTube, its audience and the internet basically just corrupts people. It’s all heavy handed at best, as it really drives into the audience what it’s trying to say.
Although the messages themselves aren’t bad, they are delivered rather forcefully and end up surface level. And while director Coppola doesn’t quite skewer the age of influencers as much as the film tries to present, but much like us and our phones, there’s an addictive quality to the film. A kinetic energy that is impossible to dismiss, no matter how uneven the construction of the film may be.
Especially brought in by Andrew Garfield‘s marvelous performance in the film. His mimic and his movements are insane, forcing you to buy every part of his character.
The story follows Frankie (Maya Hawke), an aimless bartender, who despite possessing some videography gifts, is unable to hone her talents in the right way. That is until, she comes across Link (Andrew Garfield), a mysterious and unstable street performer, whom she records on her phone, ranting at tourists on Hollywood Boulevard. Seeing that her video has turned into a small success, she decides to get more of Link’s eccentricities online.
Though Link, at first, is vary of being recorded, especially given his stance of being anti-phone, he agrees to be filmed by Frankie, in short stints, turning him into a viral star. Soon enough, Frankie has recruited fellow bartender, Jake (Nat Wolff) as a writer and branded Link as No One Special under the guise of a producer/ manager, Mark Schwartz (Jason Schwartzman), and come up with a concept for an online game show called ‘Your Phone Or Your Dignity?’, a loud and ugly satire of everything internet, which turns No One Special into an overnight sensation. However, an incident on an episode, leaves Frankie questioning about her morality, and the cost of their success.
It’s a pretty basic story with humble beginnings, the initial success, the growth of the brand and ending with the eventual downfall. This is a film positioned to say a lot, but even with great performances, confident directing and an understanding of the culture being depicted, the film ends up feeling generic.
Here, director Coppola seems to be aiming to create a conversation about humanity’s addicted to technology, cell phones, social media, and our constant consumption of nonsense on the Internet, but massively disappoints by ultimately succumbing to the very faults it aims at. She presents some interesting concepts, but they never quite take flight, and ends up asking a lot but never seems really interested in answering anything.
The film seems to completely understands and misunderstands YouTube, with themes of old and/or outdated ideas clashing with the new, like when director Coppola starts off her film with occasional “silent film” style slates on-screen. Later, Frankie pukes up a bunch digital emoji that come cascading out of her mouth.
Thankfully, despite all that director Coppola walks a tightrope of stylized energy and melancholy, which keeps us invested in the proceedings of the film. Probably the best scene in the film is one of the film’s quieter ones, where Frankie and Link are at a restaurant and talking about what they want from life. It’s clear neither really know. Frankie begins recording Link, who slithers under the table because he’s incapable of being serious for too long, but once Link turns the camera on her, her eyes fall to the ground. She wants to create, without having to reveal too much of herself, which is a tricky place to be in when creating videos of the web.
The main cast does quite a good job, especially with Andrew Garfield (who is also one of the producers) given free rein to pull off the dynamic range of Link’s volatile personality. His performance as the energetic, dumb but smart and eccentric Link is incredible. He transforms over the course of the film, taking the audience along with him in his dissent into YouTube stardom. He’s one of the main reasons to watch this film as he elevates the overall product.
Maya Hawke (daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke) is overshadowed by Garfield‘s scenery-chewing, but because she was the one mildly likeable character her performance came across quite well. Nat Wolff also does well and is provided with several scenes to convey a lot of emotion and information, usually without saying anything.
Jason Schwartzman is solid as always and really gets into the character of the slimy producer/ manager. In smaller roles, Alexa Demie and Johnny Knoxville do a great job. On the whole, ‘Mainstream’ is a uniquely bizarre and flawed film anchored by Andrew Garfield‘s energetic performance.
Directed – Gia Coppola
Rated – R
Run Time – 94 minutes