Gia Coppola’s sophomore follow-up Mainstream in some aspects reminds me of Sidney Lumet’s 1976 masterpiece Network; both works are scathing media satires and are hyperreal in tone and approach–although Network warned where culture was going with mainstream media and journalism integrity that has sadly led to deeply demise, demoralization, and polarization in our discourse today-Coppola aims to expose the unnecessary shallowness of social media but fails to make it remotely engaging and the film ends up feeling just as hollow as the target she is condemning.
While making an impressive and artful debut with Palo Alto, Gia Coppola returns to shallow lifestyles once again, with far less engaging results about a band of young people who begin to gain a lot of traction on their YouTube account. It holds a lot of promise and actually has its moments, but never makes much of an impact. Palo Alto was a woozy and dreamlike odyssey coming-of-age story that showed a lot of promise for the director back in 2014; perhaps a little cold there was enough artistry, craft, and engrossing drama in the film that showcased a promising new voice in the Coppola family. In many aspects, the film reminded me more of a modern variation of Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, in which Gia is the niece of the heavyweight auteur.
While the future of social media still remains uncertain, especially when it comes to content and entertainment. As mentioned above Lumet’s Network still feels timeless as ever, especially in an era of cable media outlets that pass polemic and polarization as journalism. Coppola’s film is a cautionary tale about the demise of culture from social media and how we look for validation through clicks and likes. A message that feels like it’s come 7 years too late.
While taking place in modern day, the film focuses on Frankie (Maya Hawke) who is a very lonely soul. She lives alone, works as a bartender where she gets lectured about not doing her job work, and she eats microwave sliders instead of cooking a full course meal. She ends up encountering a man in a rat suit at a shopping mall named Link (Andrew Garfield), in which he notices her filming him in front of a Kandinsky painting as people walk past it with no interest.
Frankie shoots a lot of content, but she is lucky enough to get 100 views. Once she encounters Link who is an anti-internet rebel who refuses to own a cell phone ends up getting her over a lot of views when he delivers a monologue for her at the mall as he points to the painting and squawks at people walking by. Eventually, Frankie and her bartender co-worker, Jake (Nat Wollff), meet up with Link more and begin to produce more videos with him where he speaks on the principles of unplugging from social media entirely.
Following the rise-and-fall narrative, Gia Coppola fails to ignite any of these characters. Andrew Garfield has moments of brilliance, yet holds many moments of over-the-top lunacy that feels misplaced and mismatched for this movie. Especially in moments where he yells with frantic frenzy. There are other lazy moments in the film that feel like forced indie quirk involving the bar where Frankie works at where she is ordered to wear a baby costume for a performance art show.
Eventually Jackie, Link, and Jake’s videos take off and it catches the eye of an eventual adviser manager (Jason Schwartzman) who convinces the triad to start their own content inside a studio and can get advertisements on YouTube from major corporate sponsors like Subway. From there Coppola never elevates the material as she gets trapped with internet-video aesthetics that feel misplaced and unnecessary. You also can sense where the narrative is going early on, and the material never quite feels fresh or revelatory. It also fails to ignite on a dramatic or complex level. Tension indeed grows between the collaborators, and so many other moments in the film feel over-the-top and feel like shock value that doesn’t drive the dramatic momentum of the narrative home as it feels too measured.
Coppola infuses the film with ideas. The Link character infuses ideas how we self-destruct and tear each other down behind a screen as the film dives into the hypocritical nature of his character as he’s participating as a culprit of the very same thing he claims to despise. There is certainly social commentary to be found with the exchanges and confrontations in the film, but the movie is more successful at incorporating ideas than building an emotionally involving story.