SXSW 2018: Social Animals
Kaylyn, Humza, and Emma are three teenagers who have grown up with social media always in their lives. One of them uses it the way a typical teenager would, while the other two have used it to create opportunity for themselves. Their lives seem to revolve around posting pictures and chatting with others on Instagram. You would think that this practice would be done to perhaps show social media’s affect on our lives at large or to make some sort of comment on the state of the world, but that’s not the case at all.
Jonathan Ignatius Green's film Social Animals has merely plucked these three stories out of the sea of millions on the photo sharing platform and presented them to you. This wouldn’t be a bad thing at all if the three stories were more interesting, but as it is, the movie feels manufactured. There’s plenty of gorgeous cinematography, but the three stories that are told aren’t all that cinematically interesting and feel redundant within themselves.
Sixteen-year-old Kaylyn comes from a millionaire family, living in a sizable home and setting up glamorous photoshoots to grow her already massive following. Her Instagram account has just over half a million followers, and her strict father has used his influence and cashflow to set up meetings with lifestyle gurus and professional photographers to make sure that her brand increases so that her future dreams of becoming a model are easier to achieve.
Humza’s story is the most unique and leads to the most cinematically interesting portions of the documentary. When he was younger, New York native Humza got involved in the daredevil practice of urban exploration, breaking into abandoned buildings and climbing up bridges in order to take some stunning photographs. His two hundred thousand strong following was earned through these photographs, and has afforded him plenty of great opportunities, including magazine spreads and his own fashion lines. He’s successfully built himself a career, but those who helped him get there have accused him of selling out and have turned their backs on him, leaving him alone.
Emma is an average midwestern teen, dating boys, riding dirt bikes, and navigating the social politics of her school. Those social circles have been extra cruel to her as of late as she’s had to switch schools and reset her account due to a vicious rumor spread. She goes from being fairly popular locally to having to start over, and things look good until the cycle begins again. Emma’s story is the most interesting to watch, and is the only one that doesn’t feel forcefully dramatized through not-all-that-low low-points.
The film uses the pictures that populate the three’s Instagram feeds to great effect. Humza’s photography is brilliantly death-defying, and Kaylyn’s professional grade model photographs are impressive, but these can be seen by simply logging onto the app and looking them up at any time. The film does reenact some of the behind the scenes footage, like Humza’s climbs, but that’s the only thing done that couldn’t be found elsewhere. There’s nothing technically wrong with Social Animals, but there’s also nothing that sets it apart.