Rates: * * * *
Why Did I Watch It? It popped up on my letterboxd feed and we need more good 2020 movies.
A suburban misfit, Kurt Kunkle, buries himself in social media, creating a virtual world of prank videos, reviews and lifehacks. Only problem: no one is watching. How do you stand out in a crowded online community, where viewing options are infinite, and attention spans are short? Kurt finally has an idea; live stream a killing spree, bumping off his ride share passengers as he works an evening shift.
Kurt is in awe of another influencer, one with actual followers, called Bobby Basecamp: an obnoxious teenage jerk who Kurt used to babysit. The film’s initial laughs come from Bobby’s determination to remain VERY UNIMPRESSED by everything Kurt tries; after his first two kills, Kurt is dismayed that no one is watching his live feed, despite the outrageously shocking content. Bobby explains to him:
‘This is boring. It’s been done. No one wants to watch a white guy drive around.’
Kurt solemnly agrees; he was stupid to think that murder would be enough on its own. Everyone has already seen murders. And so he ups the ante, with grim consequences for his mentor.
Kurt is a bit like Travis Bickle; a lost soul, desperate to connect with other people, unaware of how to go about it. Social media is an easy answer, that becomes the problem; it’s sheer ubiquity makes it very difficult to distinguish yourself. And like De Niro’s famous character, Kurt is drawn to an attractive, accomplished woman who is all of the things he is not; in this case a rising comedian with an attitude and a lot of insta followers, named Jessie Adams.
As Kurt zeroes in on her, drawn by her online presence like a magnet, more laughs flow from the deluded characters that cross his path. His father, a has-been DJ with a drug problem, excited to have a residency in a strip club (a perfectly ragged David Arquette), and ‘DJ Uno’, a pretentious Japanese influencer, unwilling to mention Kurt on her channel under any circumstances. These interactions have a loose, improvised feel, and some of the dialogue is flat out hysterical. There’s not so much jokes, as demented observations, beamed in from an adjacent reality, and delivered dead pan.
As Kurt, ‘Stranger Things’ star Joe Keery gives an uninhibited performance, funny and discomforting. While it is an exaggerated characterisation, everything about it is familiar: you know this guy. And his wrong headed reactions to everything – unfazed by running someone over, devastated when someone trash talks his feed – are both hilarious, and a satire of askew priorities. While very different in style, this film made me think of ‘The Comedy’; Rick Alverson’s savagely humourous takedown of self absorbed people, disconnected from their humanity. Social media in this film is doing what wealth and privilege do in that one; insulating us from consequences, and each other, turning us into worse people.
This film does get heavy handed at times. Not all of its punches connect, and some are so obvious as to be redundant (witness Kurt driving through a homeless camp, berating them for not having an online presence). But it continually recovers from these dips with another funny scene, line or twist. And the ending, showing how ‘The Rideshare Killer’ would leave an online legacy to be misused by everyone, is brilliant. And really: not even a joke. This is exactly what would happen.
Sharp, energetic and darkly comic. A fun piece of free wheeling, gonzo film making.