Saturday, January 8, 2022

Mainstream: Movie Review

Loneliness and unrequited love.
Mainstream has ended up on the wrong side with critics and audiences. Everybody says they understand its message and then comes up with a different message than the person before them. Obviously a movie has missed the mark if nobody can agree on what its saying just that it did so badly. I’m not going to argue that my interpretation is correct, but it does ring true throughout the movie for me.   2021

Directed by: Gia Coppola

Screenplay by: Tom Stuart, Gia Coppola

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Maya Hawke

A plot description isn’t going to do this movie justice. It moves fast and probably sounds very boring, and yet it isn’t boring at all. In a nutshell, Frankie (Maya Hawke) turns Link (Andrew Garfield) into a YouTube star, and that’s it, but obviously there’s a lot more going on. The key is why Frankie latches on to Link and why Link becomes a YouTube star. The rest of this review is going to be more analytical than I typically get, but I liked this way more than the average person, and I think it’s only fair to show what I got out of it. For those who haven’t seen it yet, this will get spoiler-heavy. I went in knowing next to nothing about it, and recommend you do the same.

Frankie is lonely. She’s floating through life at the beginning. Working a job she hates, ignoring her mother who tells her to move home, and records people living their life. In her words, she’s an artist, she’s trying to create something. But that’s not entirely it, she’s lonely and she’s trying to figure out what makes other people less lonely, and that’s why she’s recording strangers going about their day. And then Link is in one of her videos – he’s charismatic, larger than life, people gravitate to him. Frankie recognizes that and she wants that.

What she doesn’t know is that Link is also lonely. That’s why he doesn’t tell her anything about his past. My only real issue with the movie is did Jake and Frankie actually believe Link when he said that was his real name and his parents were dead? Morons, obviously his parents didn’t die from the measles during the Civil War. But I digress. Link’s mysterious past is just his cover for his loneliness. He’s putting up walls and hiding who he really is. His past doesn’t really matter, all that matters is that he knows that if he admits anything real, that vulnerability is going to make him lonely. That’s what he’s covering up. And what better way to avoid loneliness then becoming a social media star where everyone adores you.

You have to be as attractive and charismatic as Andrew Garfield to pull that off. Link knows that and that’s what he leans into. He’s not being himself, he’s just being visible. Nothing about Link is real.

At this point Frankie has brought in former co-worker Jake (Nat Wolff) to help with the story ideas to help launch Link’s social media superstardom as No One Special. Jake is similar to Frankie, he really likes this connection that they now have, and he develops feelings for Frankie. This is just life – this is normal people who feel less lonely when they form a connection with somebody else. Meanwhile, Frankie is really drawn to Link’s lack of loneliness. She doesn’t know his bravado isn’t real, she doesn’t realize how one-sided their relationship really is. That’s something that I absolutely loved about this movie. Through it’s very fast-paced editing and the hyper-reality of social media, it temporarily slows down for a truly heartbreaking unrequited love. He never does anything more than the occasional kiss on her forehead. The coming back through the window to kiss her was all in her head. (However, the chemistry and hotness between Andrew Garfield and Maya Hawke and Nat Wolff, yeah, that’s most definitely real.)

Poor Frankie doesn’t realize that Link is never going to like her like that. He’s already solved loneliness – create his persona No One Special and never be real or vulnerable, just fake it for as long as you can. His persona is of course important. He can connect to his viewers by saying he’s just like them – he’s not special. His persona is not cynical, unlike the other YouTube stars they’re showcasing. He’s building a connection with somebody like Isabelle, convincing them to be real to just be themselves. But of course that’s when everything comes crashing down – Link doesn’t ever say anything truthful and isn’t just himself. He’s just figured out how to fake it and even through his final monologue, he’s finding ways to convince people he’s being real and honest with them.

I love the music choices. It really aids in the movie’s fast pace, it keeps everything vibrant and compelling even though it is just a cynical tale about loneliness. I like that juxtaposition and think it works for the movie. I agree with the complaints about the editing – but there are two different styles to distinguish between “real-life” (in quotation marks since we never know the real Link) and No One Special. I agree that that unrealistic supposedly YouTube style editing already feels dated. And yet, I think that works with the film’s themes: this connection people feel isn’t real and it’s fleeting.

I don’t think Mainstream is about the perils of social media. I think it’s a rather bleak statement that everybody is lonely and social media can both ease that pain and exacerbate it. It’s about a desperate need to not feel lonely and somebody like Link can just come in and create a connection out of nothing and then what are you left with? Death, loneliness and despair. It’s cynical alright, Link is cynical and he just did his best to convince people that No One Special isn’t cynical.