‘Social Animals’ Doc Gets a Like But Not a Follow

by KB Burke on January 14, 2019

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Swiss Fist] 

It doesn’t matter where you are in America, urban or rural, rich or poor, you are likely to see a teenager with a smartphone in their hands. While their comfort level with the device’s basic use is sometimes discomforting for them, there’s one thing that they’re usually experts at: social media. Services like Twitter, Snapchat, and especially Instagram capture the time and attention of the today’s youth.

The new documentary Social Animals captures the importance and obsession of social media, especially in today’s younger generation. Through the stories of three teenagers, as well as interviews with others, the documentary showcases a world where life is lived online, challenges and all.

We are introduced to three teenage Instagram users. Kaylen (@kaylynslevin – currently at 508k followers) is a pretty rich girl from Calabasas, California. She loves to dance, model, and hang out with friends at the beach. Despite being focused, level headed, and likable, she has immature aspirations and experiences the dangers of being too popular. Humza (@humzadeas – currently at 225k), is a skateboarder and photographer from Astoria, Queens, who gets his kicks from graffiti and most notably, scaling tall structures around New York City for a fresh perspective that has never been seen, much more photographed. His social media adventures take him to new heights of jealousy, fame, and notoriety. Emma (private account) is a typical rural high-school student from Lebanon, Ohio, who does social media despite not particularly liking it.

Each of these teens’ worlds are led and influenced by the responses they receive online and the amount of likes and followers they amass. Despite the popularity and followers count, each has an online image to maintain. It’s the new peer pressure … the new way to “fit in.”

Director Jonathan Ignatius Green does a good job here at intertwining the three main characters with interview interludes, giving true perspective to the current social media culture, foreign to many of older generations. The documentary illuminates the value of likes and selfies, as well as the psychological impact and pressure for online perfection.

In under 90 minutes, the film covers subculture dangers, isolation, and teenage drama, including dating, online bullying and real-life harassment. There’s even glimpses into how social media can lead to crime and suicide. The film’s visual design shows cool animation of the teenagers’ actual posts and comments. The editing team keeps the stories moving by cutting between the three teens and others. The last half hour gets weak and unsurprising, however, as the stories reach an apex, and the film abruptly ends, not leaving a longing for more.

While a solid outing, I found my interest level dissipating by the time the credits rolled. This may be of more interest to parents, trying to figure out why their kids are always on their phones, but if you’re in the know then there’s not much new under the sun, To me, more substance was needed in the end. I totally enjoyed the beautiful photography posted by the teens, especially Humza who mixes Go-Pro videos with still shots. Maybe they’re worth a follow.

Social Animals is available on Amazon, iTunes, and VOD now, and premiering on Netflix later in 2019.

KB is a native New Yorker/Midwest transplant who’s into tech and the arts, especially film and music. He still aspires to be a DJ in his other life. You can frequently catch him watching Hitchcock classics, film noir, and anything Star Wars.

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