A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that People You May Know tries to grapple with the superficiality of online life and the way it supports and reflects the human inclination to lie. The movie attempts to address people misrepresenting themselves on Instagram, Facebook, and other social media using picture and text to paint busy, happy, and enviable lives that in truth may not be so great. Characters drink excessively. A married couple is briefly seen under the covers from the waist up having sex (no nudity), and sexual practices, including "jerking off," "ass-to-mouth," and "glory hole," are mentioned. Language includes "f--k," "s--t," and "d--k." Characters who are planning to get married originally met to have sex through the app Grindr.
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What's the story?
In PEOPLE YOU MAY KNOW, socially awkward Jed (Nick Thune) feels as if his life is passing him by, something he ill-advisedly decides to remedy by opening a series of social media accounts and lying about himself on them. Jed uses his professional skills as a digital photo retoucher to post a fabricated image in which he seems to be partying with the singer Usher. Even Usher (as himself), who says he was too drunk to remember the event in the fake photo, is fooled, which is why the singer invites Jed to party some more. Acquaintance and social media expert Tasha (Halston Sage) decides to take the reclusive Jed on as an experiment. Tired of representing "C-list YouTubers and DJs," she wants to prove to her boss that it's possible to create celebrities through strategic social media lying. She argues that it would be far easier to create celebrities and represent them before they hit it big than to try to beat competitors who are also wooing already famous clients. She promises, "Jed, you are going to be the guy every dude wants to hang with and every girl wants to be with." For Tasha and her edgy firm, money, of course, is at the root of the endeavor, while clueless Jed becomes a willing if naïve co-conspirator in his quest for a more interesting social life. His newly manufactured renown puts him in contact with his high school crush, Franky (Kaily Smith Westbrook, a producer on the film), who is also misrepresenting herself as a single working actress even though she and her husband have moved to the 'burbs where she sells real estate. Jed's construct crumbles when he returns from Usher's drunken party. Still drunk, in the middle of the night, he inadvertently undoes his meticulously crafted online image by posting a photograph that has clearly been manipulated. By morning, the online world turns against him. He tries to redeem himself with more posting, this time honestly.
Is it any good?
This film feels largely clueless, although its heart is in the right place as it earnestly grapples with issues raised by the intrusiveness and ubiquity of online life. A woman at a bar tells Jed that even after meeting him in person, she would never seriously date him without Googling him. Pre-social media Jed maintains that he prefers to speak to people in person. The woman just laughs. What's difficult to accept here is that Jed is portrayed as two different kinds of guys: the shy one too afraid to tell his high school crush how much he liked her, and the guy who is willing to blatantly lie about himself in the effort to collect millions of followers. He doesn't seem to enjoy the supposed perks of his "fame," and he seems to have all the retouching work he needs, so we never learn why he participates in the ruse. The answer to that question would have given People You May Know the substance it lacks.
When Tasha teaches Jed how to stay relevant on Twitter, she encourages him to opine freely, even if he has nothing to say. The idea is that opinions reflect depth, but there's no recognition that the need to make up opinions and also keep them short epitomizes superficiality. This is a world that counts on short attention spans, where tastemakers tire quickly of what was cool just yesterday. What confirms the movie's cluelessness is the way characters try to redeem themselves in the end by being self-consciously honest online. There's no recognition that they're still pursuing the same ultimate goal -- to look good online -- substituting the use of truth for the use of lies.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the importance of training teens on using social media safely. How does People You May Know make you think twice about the truthfulness of representations online?
The movie makes it clear that many people enhance their online profiles both to make themselves more popular and to help them make money. Does knowing that ordinary people, even friends, are lying about themselves online make you feel betrayed or abused?
How do you present yourself online? Are you honest about yourself? Do you think that's important? Why or why not?
Two men about to get married pretend they met romantically across a crowded room because they are too embarrassed to admit they met through a hookup phone app. Why do you think they are embarrassed?
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