Venice 2020: Gia Coppola's 'Mainstream' Gets Right Up in Your Face
by Alex Billington
September 8, 2020
The internet is a fame machine. It can turn nobodies into world famous celebrities in the blink of an eye. We all know how it works, of course, but is internet fame really a good thing anymore?
Probably Definitely not. But everyone is still addicted to fame and fortune and money, even if it's just to watch someone else become famous. Especially the younger generations, so many teens need that attention and adoration to feel good about themselves. First Ingrid Goes West, then Spree, and now Mainstream - a subgenre is forming about how toxic and horrible social media is and how we're all a part of it. Mainstream is director Gia Coppola's second feature film (following Palo Alto) and it's a loud, wild, crazy film that does not shy away in literally straight up telling the viewers that they we are all involved in this delusion even if we don't want to admit it.
Written by Gia Coppola and Tom Stuart, and directed by Coppola, Mainstream introduces us (with fun old timey Hollywood title cards) to Frankie, played by Maya Hawke, a young woman in Los Angeles who has no life and no friends and a crappy job. But she wants to be somebody. One day hanging out in the city, she films a guy in a rat costume who, it turns out, is a shady drifter named Link, played by Andrew Garfield. He doesn't even have a phone, but she keeps finding him and he keeps doing the craziest things. Mostly just messing with people and running around doing whatever he wants. Sooner than you can say "Snapchat!" he becomes internet famous and she's the director - filming him and editing the videos and uploading them to YouTube. From there it all blows up - he gets an agent, and his own livestream show. He's a character, but she can't tell if he's really real or just a weirdo, whatever the case people love him. Until he takes it too far…
To offer a comparison that will also explain how divisive this film will be - Mainstream is kind of Vox Lux but for social media/YouTube influencers. It's not the same story, but it is the same kind of loud and in your face film about how terrible we all are. And how fame is actually part of that. And I always always appreciate that kind of commentary, but the more I think about this film, the less impressed I am with it. It doesn't hit as hard as it should. Mainly because as we spend more time with Link, it turns out he's not the good boy he seems to be, and ultimately that muddles his message. Right when he starts to get serious and try to tell people that we're a part of this and we've helped create this monster, we also realize he's pretty much the same. It wouldn't work if he was altruistic either, but this is where the film falls apart in that final act. The opening and the build up to his fame are solid, but by the end it turns out to be more off-putting than clever.
People don't like being told that THEY are responsible. We all like stories, as long as they're not about us. I don't mind. It doesn't bother me because it's all true. Everything Link says in this is true. But to really get that message across, and to effectively make people think about their own involvement, you must be subtle and smart in crafting a cautionary tale. Ultimately this film is a mish-mash of intriguing ideas and social (media) commentary, but ultimately it doesn't succeed in being convincing. And it's definitely not subtle. The focus is initially on Frankie, but does she learn any lessons? By the end of the film I don't even know if she does. Despite all these flaws, it's a still an entertaining film - I found myself laughing maniacally often, because it is a crazy "F you" to social media/livestream fame. And we need more films that take this stance.
Alex's Venice 2020 Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing