Studio: Kino Lorber
Director: Robert Mockler
Writer: Robert Mockler
Producer: Jenn Wexler, Jessalyn Abbott, Robert Mockler, James Belfer, Larry Fessenden
Stars: Addison Timlin, Ian Nelson, Larry Fessenden, Jeremy Gardner, Stuart Rudin, Nicolette Pierini
An aimless teenager desperate for social media attention embarks on a crime spree in hopes of impressing her online audience.
A pet peeve when reading reviews involves finding critics who appear to fearfully filter words they really wish to write. Instead they echo popular sentiments, parroting platitudes of what they assume everyone expects them to say, probably placating a PR person in the process.
You see this often with abstract genre filmmakers and commonly with film festival selections. Writers poetically identify avant-garde aesthetics or “fever dream” atmospheres, yet rarely put the same finger on pointed purposes or a particular effect such elements have on a viewer. The sense is one of confusion mistaken as meaning and then sold as something academically arty because someone is too afraid to say, “I don’t get it.”
I almost stepped into that trap with “Like Me,” a movie that does nothing for me on either an entertainment or personally introspective level. For a moment, I considered I might be too old to be hip to what first-time filmmaker Robert Mockler sets out to say with his story of aimless youth wandering a world dominated by viral videos. I felt like kidnapped Larry Fessenden in the film when he asks, “what is this, ’60 Minutes’?” and his teenage captor replies, “what’s ’60 Minutes’?”
Then in soaking up the exquisitely candy colored cinematography, intentionally erratic editing, and arthouse indie mood, I considered maybe Mockler’s cinematic concepts were so high as to be over my head. Perhaps I should fear being the minority mouth yawning disinterestedly while the majority applauds a presumably bold, yet indeterminate statement on contemporary culture.
Nah. I’m willing to say, “I don’t get it.” Because I’m not convinced “Like Me” has much worth getting in the first place.
Teenage loner Kiya is so desperate for any kind of connection that she’ll take it digitally. She is so starved for attention that she’ll grab it the quickest way anyone can. And what’s a lazier way to make your name known in the 21st century than conducting a crime spree and posting it online?
As fast as Kiya attracts anonymous affection for her gun-toting antics, YouTuber Burt Walden makes himself internet famous by posting a scathing reaction video. Burt, played by Ian Nelson over-reading his lines with all the sneering sincerity of an Adam West “Batman” villain, accuses Kiya of being a fake, insignificant, fame-obsessed nobody. Burt could not possibly be more on the money.
Much like the overall movie, Kiya can’t find the meaning in her life because there isn’t any to be found. Claiming to be just 17, the audience learns nothing about Kiya’s origins. Maybe she was orphaned. Maybe she was abused. Maybe she was bullied. Maybe there aren’t any convenient hints to explain how/why she became the sociopath she is.
But “Like Me” is predominantly a character study. And in the absence of any construct for sympathy, understanding, or motivation, the character it is studying is only a plain shell pushing plotlines without developing any discernibly complex personality at all.
Burt’s berating drives Kiya to step up the sadism. Her next step involves seducing a lonely motel manager before tying him up and taking him captive. Whatever Kiya does next depends on what she is dared, and how far she is willing to go to impress an intangible audience that is mostly an ideal in her mind.
“Like Me’s” rant on social media has mostly a “look, see!” mentality. Material integrated into the story consists of observation of abhorrent actions and reactions with next to no actual analysis or conclusion about the content in question. It’s like a comedian starting a bit with, “did you ever notice?” and then never following through with a punchline.
Presentation is equally incomplete in purpose. The film occasionally freeze-frames before rocking a two-second sequence rapidly back and forth or splicing in shots of smiling mouths drooling pastel-colored fluids. Then there are random jump cuts to non-sequitur clips of Popeye cartoons interspersed with hallucinogenic imagery like an animated eel writhing from a bullet wound in Larry Fessenden’s arm while Kiya drives frantically through a lava lamp storm.
Maybe the point is to be as pointlessly scatterbrained as many media-infatuated mindsets are. Or maybe the only thematic value is whatever an individual infers in his/her head.
Either way, Robert Mockler misses the mark. Social media has reached a saturation point, but public tolerance of its consumption has not. Mockler’s schizophrenic visual style is primarily appealing to a millennial audience who is not near ready to have the camera turned back on culture that is still current. That leaves “Like Me” in a limbo where even if it does have something to say, its cautionary message is shouted into an artistic void created by premature indecision.
Review Score: 40