Gia Coppola's sophomore feature effort is a memorable, jarring satire that could help teens think critically about the personalities who influence their actions, attitudes, and self-worth. It starts when Link, a handsome stranger with a big personality, jumps into the frame of wannabe filmmaker Frankie's recording and creates something unexpected. Inevitably, the video racks up views on YouTube. Who wouldn't want to seize the moment to see where the self-generated streaming content train takes them? Link is a modern-day prophet of sorts, and he, Frankie, and Jake start with a vision to create art that offers commentary about how smartphones are taking away people's connectedness and mental acuity. But with success, they become the very thing they're parodying. This offers a valuable media literacy lesson for the modern age, but the delivery -- while creative -- isn't likely to shake the hold that actual YouTube and other social media platforms have on teens.
As an actor, Garfield is so likable that it catches you off-guard when he wholly transforms into Link, an authentically outrageous and obnoxious YouTuber. There's not a drop of Peter Parker or Eduardo Saverin in this wild performance, and it gets harder and harder to see the actor inside the outlandish character. Instead, it's easier and easier to see provocateurs like Jake Paul (who cameos without irony). Link's antics aren't outside the realm of believability, particularly in the unregulated wilds of the internet. But in following content creators who criticize people's unhealthy dependence on digital platforms, Coppola misses exposing the sloppy, opportunistic motivations of influencers who abuse their viewers' trust and loyalty for personal profit. Teens may be put off by a film that preaches to rather than speaks with them, but the seeds of skepticism about influencer culture will likely germinate.