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  People You May Know The perfect profileBuy this film here.
Year: 2017
Director: Sherwin Shilati
Stars: Nick Thune, Halston Sage, Kaily Smith Westbrook, Nicholas Rutherford, Carly Chaikin, Gillian Alexy, Ian Harding, Usher Raymond, Anna Margaret Hollyman, Justin Klosky, Adam Westbrook, Carlo Rota, Christopher Darga, Dillon Lane, Donn Swaby
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Thirty-something photo editor Jed (Nick Thune) might be in high demand for skills at manipulating images online, but remains single and lonely. Jed reasons it is because in an age when nobody dates anyone they don't Google first, he is invisible online. Taking a tentative first step into social media, he impulsively edits himself into series of fun-looking photos, partying with celebrities like pop star Usher Raymond in a variety of glamorous settings. Tasha (Halston Sage), a beautiful but icy online content manager Jed runs into daily at the local coffee shop, immediately sees through his ruse. But spies an opportunity to transform this nobody into an instant social media sensation. And thus reap lucrative cross-promotional rewards. Tasha's gamble pays off big-time leading to a party where she suddenly feels uneasy watching Jed reconnect with Franky (Kaily Smith Westbrook), an old high school crush now grappling with her own anxieties and secrets.

Whereas Bo Burnham's thematically similar and more widely acclaimed Eighth Grade (2018) dealt with social media-afflicted angst among 'Generation Y', People You May Know skews interestingly towards an older generation. One that, as Jed and Frankie observe in a reflective moment, straddled the switchover from analogue to digital and have a clearer sense of just how different life and, more specifically, relationships have become in its aftermath. Making his feature debut writer-director Sherwin Shilati observes a cross-section of characters that at first come across annoyingly snarky and self-obsessed. Trying their utmost to uphold a picture perfect Instagram profile whilst their real lives remain stifling and unfulfilled. Even a star like Usher Raymond, portraying himself in an only slightly unflattering cameo, fails to spot that Jed photo-shopped themselves together and is suckered in. Chiefly, the film implies, because he is playing the social media game too.

As satires go People You May Know (as the title implies: you only think you know someone based solely on their social media profile) is a little on the nose. Yet still rings true. Scenes where Tasha and her fellow office drones joylessly debate the next breakthrough in online marketing, Franky gazes with envy at Jed's glamorous globe-trotting posts, or Jed wanders forlornly through crowds of Instagram-addicted zombies struggling to make a connection, seemingly hammer home the message that social media is disruptive, dehumanizing but in today's world inescapable. Over time however the film's assessment of the social media era evolves into something less didactic, more nuanced. At first Shilati seems to be constructing a gender-reversed Pygmallion for the digital age. Yet as portrayed by Nick Thune, Jed comes across neither unattractive nor especially maladjusted. In fact he is clearly articulate and seems relatively confident with women. As 'hopeless' rom-com protagonists go he does not have too many issues. He is just unlucky.

However, while it becomes increasingly obvious spending time with Jed prompts Tasha to reassess their hitherto professional relationship, the film curiously forgoes this route. Instead it shifts focus to a parallel plot following Franky as she struggles through an unfulfilling real estate job and failing to pursue her acting dream whilst dealing with pregnancy and an unsupporting husband. Neither of which she mentions to Jed while they are out on a 'meet cute.' It is a testament to co-producer/star Kaily Smith Westbrook's skill that Franky remains sympathetic feeding the film's message that people of all sorts can be manipulative and vulnerable in equal measure. While the abrupt derailing of Jed and Tasha's seemingly burgeoning relationship, after early scenes compel viewers to invest in it, leaves the film slightly hollow and unbalanced thereafter, its central thesis gradually expands into something warmer and more empathetic. In nice offbeat touch Tasha's boss (Carly Chaikin), whom the film initially establishes as an abrasive, unlikable caricature, is the one who provides the most cogent analysis of why social media, for all its failings, remains a positive force and shows herself to be more faceted and sensitive than the viewer suspects. Everyone online seems like they have their lives together when in reality we are all struggling. Maybe social media is not the problem so much as how we view it. One just needs to keep some perspective. Expanding an essentially intimate character piece, Shilati indulges in bravura multimedia montages, split screen effects and coloured gels making this a rare visually striking 'dramedy.' The plot veers off on tangents, but they remain fun tangents including a memorable sequence set in an escape room.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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