‘The Social Ones’ Is Social Media-ocrity

by Warren Cantrell on March 4, 2020

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Minor Rock Fist Down]

A mockumentary, or just comedy in general, is difficult work, and there’s no formula or ruleset that gives a person an idea of what’s required to make it successful. The setting doesn’t have to be familiar, although that can be a plus; it doesn’t necessarily have to build towards something or some event, though that helps; and the characters can all be unpleasant, though having just one of them who isn’t would be beneficial. And while a person could point to any one of these things as the reason why The Social Ones just doesn’t work, it would be a disservice to the effort as a whole, which is a mess from top to bottom for all of these reasons and more.

The conceit of the picture is that a magazine called ‘The National Influencer’ is celebrating their 5th anniversary with a cover story and photo shoot featuring the country’s most notable online personalities. Editors Mia (Laura Kosann) and Ava Archer (Danielle Kosann) are speaking to a documentary film crew about their efforts to corral these luminaries from Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and elsewhere, and it is this crew’s documentation of the Archer sisters and the influencers they’re working with that provide the narrative skeleton of the film. The documentary team doesn’t just focus on these high-profile subjects and the sisters, though, they also interview an academic, a therapist, and an author: all of whom specialize in social media analysis.

It’s an awful lot to juggle in just 85 short minutes. Indeed, The Social Ones takes so long introducing all of these people that the supposed denouement, the photo shoot, ends up taking a back seat to the ever-increasing characters the script tries to stuff into the whole thing. Some of them appear early on yet disappear later (Mia and Ava’s bald assistant), and others, like power couple Mika (Allegra Edwards) and Kingston (David Patterson) pop up more than halfway through the movie for one extended scene that doesn’t have anything to do with the overall plot (the same could be said for their brief appearance at the end).

The result feels less like a film and more like a series of comedy sketches strung together to hammer just one comedic note long past the point where it has any resonance. All the influencers have an elevated sense of self importance and have lost any perspective on the lines between the real world and the artificial social media fantasy they’re cultivating. It’s supposed to be funny, this pretentiousness and disconnect from reality, but the joke is so played out both here and in a culturally pervasive way that it would be like making a send-up about how politicians are all corrupt, or about lawyers being dishonest.

The characters of The Social Ones aren’t doing the picture any favors, either, and never provide the audience a way into this world, ill-formed as it is. Is this supposed to take place in the past, when magazines might have still sold well enough to support a publication like ‘The National Influencer’? Is this supposed to all take place in the future, when online personalities dominate the public conversation in the exaggerated way that’s presented here? Are any of these people supposed to be sympathetic or relatable? Everyone from the fashion influencer Josie Z. (Amanda Giobbi) to meme king Kap Phat Jawacki (Setareki Wainiqolo) are so aggressively unpleasant that any humor to be found in their antics wears off after about 5 minutes with them.

The set-up of The Social Ones is indeed a clever way to approach this, yet again, the script fails the overall effort and the characters involved. When one looks at the successful pillars of this genre like Best in Show or This is Spinal Tap, the films play with some of these tropes, but they never surrender the narrative to their point of view. These movies had shrill, nasty characters that played up the worst tendencies of their archetype, but they were balanced by knowing, sympathetic characters that anchored everything in the real world. This is important, too, for what makes a delusional past-his-prime rock star or a neurotic show dog owner so funny in these settings is the very real and reasonable world around them, reacting to the madness.

In The Social Ones, the audience is this real world, and it is their responsibility (not the movie’s) to laugh at these people, making the whole viewing experience voyeuristic and somewhat mean spirited. The film isn’t about anything, really, except to serve as a platform to lampoon its characters and their delusions of grandeur (which the film presents as less delusional and more factual).

People who are already laughing at the self-absorbed pretensions of influencers like the Kardashians and Logan Paul don’t need fictional idiots to mock so as to make the point The Social Ones is trying for, and perhaps that’s the saddest part. Ten years ago, it might have been wild to see a comedy about people who derive all their worth and identity from their online presence, but in 2020, that’s just the way of the world.

Writer/director Lauren Kosann is making her feature debut with this, and it’s an admirable effort with its heart in the right place. Yet the pieces just aren’t assembled particularly well, and the comedy is well past its expiration date, making for a film that isn’t worth a ‘share’ or a ‘like.’

“Obvious Child” is the debut novel of Warren Cantrell, a film and music critic based out of Seattle, Washington. Mr. Cantrell has covered the Sundance and Seattle International Film Festivals, and provides regular dispatches for Scene-Stealers and The Playlist. Warren holds a B.A. and M.A. in History, and his hobbies include bourbon drinking, novel writing, and full-contact kickboxing.

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