A totally bonkers Andrew Garfield and a solid performance from Maya Hawke (daughter of Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman) is not enough to save "Mainstream" from itself.
EXCLUSIVE CONTENT: Interview with "Mainstream" director Gia Coppola
Humanity is addicted to its technology, its cell phones and its social media, but one thing that has remained the same over the centuries is mankind's obsession with itself. "Mainstream" is a curious movie that's sure to create conversation, but which massively disappoints by ultimately succumbing to the very demons that it looks to, well, demonize.
Frankie (Hawke) films everything, but can't seem to gain much traction in the world of likes, shares and clicks. That's until she meets Link (Garfield), an absolutely maniacal grifter who is certifiably crazy because - get this - he doesn't even own a cell phone! Frankie befriends Link and starts filming him, and his rants go viral. Link is adamant that people need to throw their cell phones in the trash, to discard the artificial virtual world that we all now live in and to open their eyes to life beyond their digital screens.
Frankie's videos featuring Link blow up online, soon attracting other top social media influencers and a greasy agent of said influencers, Mark (Jason Schwartzman, who has mastered the art of greasy). Soon, Link becomes huge, and takes on the moniker "No One Special." He's the Andy Kaufman of the YouTube generation, in that his audience doesn't realize that he's actually thrusting his middle finger at them even while they laugh and praise him in response.
It's a paradoxical relationship, and it's what co-writer and director Gia Coppola ("Palo Alto" director, and granddaughter of Francis Ford Coppola) seems most interested in exploring. There are also themes of old and/or outdated ideas clashing with the new, like when Coppola starts off her film with occasional "silent film" style slates on-screen. Later, Frankie pukes up digital emojis that come cascading out of her mouth. Coppola presents some interesting concepts, but they never quite take flight, and the film ends up asking but never really interested in answering the question of: Where does cinema fit into all of this nonsense?
Garfield is given free reign to go as far into left field as he wants, and few actors could have probably pulled off the dynamic range of Link's volatile personality. Hawke is overshadowed by Garfield's scenery-chewing, and while she shows that the apple doesn't fall far from the family tree when it comes to acting chops, the film surprisingly gives her less and less to do as it goes along, culminating in her character being pushed nearly into the background completely.
Those of this generation (25 and under) may watch "Mainstream" and feel like it speaks to the confusion, the glut and the self-destructive nature of the world in which they were born into...they may identify with what some of the characters experience or how they view the world. But "Mainstream" is oddly out-of-step...it doesn't come across like a movie that has its finger on the pulse of the younger generation, but that it maybe would have felt fresher and hipper had it come out a decade ago.
For those over 25? Forget it. The entire movie lands as an equivalent to a giant "get off my lawn" sign. They'll nod their heads in approval and agreeance as to how self-obsessed and self-entitled kids today really are, but they will not be able to see it as any sort of reflection of something that they too are caught up in.
Had "Mainstream" screamed as loud and as authentically as Link does during his final soap box scene, it may have stood out. Instead, Coppola brings up these concepts in whispers. With so much information swirling around our heads and vying for our every second of attention, you have to do more than that to make something stick. "Mainstream" is interesting for a moment, but it's just one swipe away from being lost and forgotten forever...a film about our time that feels past its prime upon arrival.
Genre: Comedy, Drama.
Run Time: 1 hour 34 minutes.
Starring: Maya Hawke, Andrew Garfield, Nat Wolff, Colleen Camp.
Written and Directed by Gia Coppola ("Palo Alto").
"Mainstream" is available on Friday, May 7th, 2021.
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