Sweat


In the world of social media influencers, image is everything.

(2020) Drama (MUBI) Magdalena Kolesnik, Julian Swiezewski, Aleksandra Konieczna, Zbigniew Zamachowski, Tomasz Orpinski, Lech Lotocki, Magdalena Kuta, Dominika Biernat, Katarzyna Dziurska, Wiktoria Filus, Bartosz Sak, Edgar Griszczuk, Dorota Zieciowska, Katarzyna Cynke, Bogna Defecinska, Mateusz Król, Andrzej Soltysik, Anna Kalczynska. Directed by Magnus von Horn

 

We have always been a celebrity-obsessed culture, but the very nature of celebrity has changed. Ubiquitous social media “influencers,” popular vloggers whose popularity has led to companies vying for their endorsements, has brought things to new depths – although to be fair, something as shallow as celebrity has no depth to speak of.

Polish fitness guru Sylwia (Kolesnik) has more than 600,000 followers. She lives in a tony apartment in Warsaw, makes personal workout appearances in malls and posts incessantly about her daily life, often pimping energy drinks, workout equipment, workout wear and so on. She refers to her online followers as “My loves,” and her model-pretty face beams beatifically at the internet.

However, all is not rosy for Sylwia. Recently, in a moment of depression, she tearfully vlogged about her loneliness and her wish for a boyfriend she could love and who could love her back. Her sponsors are aghast; this goes against her upbeat image and being a downer could jeopardize her standing. She is stressing out over an upcoming appearance on a popular morning TV show that is far from locked down as well as the upcoming birthday celebration with her mother (Konieczka), with whom she has a not-so-warm relationship. And the topper is that she has herself a stalker (Król) who sits in his car outside her apartment building, watching her covertly as she walks her beloved Jack Russell terrier Jackson, masturbating as she does. There’s also her studly workout partner Klaudiusz (Swiezewski) with whom she has a platonic relationship – maybe.

The production design here is impressive. Sylwia’s world is cold and antiseptic, with lots of straight lines, bright neon colors and sterile atmospheres. It’s very modern – and very soulless, a commentary I think on the nature of internet celebrity. But is the dark side of being an influencer really so dark? There’s a scene late in the film where she runs into an old school friend whose life is considerably worse than her own, which does give her pause. Contrary to appearances, Sylwia is not dumb or even that shallow. Her image is carefully marketed and manipulated by Sylwia herself, and if she’s a bit jaded and cynical, it’s only because she achieved what she wanted to and discovered that the price for that achievement isn’t what she thought it would be.

The movie runs a little bit long – the worst culprit is the opening workout sequence that shows Sylwia and Klaudiusz endlessly doing various aerobics, high-fiving her followers and in general working up quite a, umm, sweat. A little judicious editing here would have made the sequence more effective.

You can thank Kolesnik for that. Not only is she insanely beautiful and fit, there’s also a lot more to her than the average workout chick spouting affirmations and aphorisms. If her image is a shallow one, it’s only because she’s giving the people what they want, and more importantly, what she thinks her sponsors want. I like that von Horn doesn’t really indict the whole culture of Internet influencers and artificial celebrity – people famous for being famous. He lets us see both sides of the coin, as it were, and make up our own minds. After all, some people would consider Sylwia living her perfect life. Not among them, however, is Sylwia herself.

The movie is currently out in theaters, but will be available on the MUBI arthouse subscription channel in about three weeks.

REASONS TO SEE: Kolesnik is a charismatic lead.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little bit long, particularly during the opening workout scene.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity and some sexual content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Kolesnik is primarily a stage actress in her native Poland; this is her first appearance as a lead in a feature film.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/1/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 98% positive reviews; Metacritic: 74/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Social Ones
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
The Holy Game

The Buskers & Lou


The slack life.

(2014) Drama (RandomMarshall Walker Lee, Megan Carver, Tyler Andre, Margaret Douglas, Robert Thrush, Jordan Wilgus, Steven Felts, William H. Wilson, Nickolas Mitchell, Ethan Zinn-Brown, Luke Potter, The Crow, The Wolf, Wes Lysiak, Skylar Jensen, Shay Bjorndahl, Perla Bonilla, Erin O’Connor, Alexandra Metaxa, Katerina Georgiou. Directed by Alex Cassun

 

Welcome to being a grown-up. I know it’s not something you particularly wanted to do; it just happened. There’s no real prize for getting here and it tends to be a pain in the you-know-where. For your trouble, however, you get free elevated stress levels. Isn’t that nice?

Lou (Lee) returns to his home town of Portland after an absence of an unspecified number of years; his friends are at first happy to see him back but more as a curiosity and Lou isn’t really forthcoming about where he’s been and why he’s back. Some, of course, are happier to see him than others.

Lou had been a street musician, playing for pocket change and using what he made “busking” for what things he needed – mainly food and alcohol. He’s determined not to resume that lifestyle however; he wants a job and a life, but considering that he’s never really had gainful employment before it’s not easy to find anything other than a dead-end minimum wage job which he takes.

Lou is crashing for now in his friend Jackie’s (Carver) van where she also lives; the two are, as friends in close quarters often will, start to get on each other’s nerves. Lou spends time talking to a therapist (Wilson) on a park bench when he’s not trying to navigate the rat race, much to the contempt of his friends.

You see, they are all continuing to busk and live life on their own terms and are all the happier for it. They have an event to look forward to; ten years prior they (including Lou) had buried a time capsule in the yard of a house some of them owned. They have decided to dig it up and are organizing a party, called “The Big Dig” to celebrate it. Lou has been inviting but he is often a no-show for things that he is invited to these days.

I don’t think I’ve seen a movie that made me feel quite so much like a crotchety old man in quite some time. This is a young person’s film dealing with young person’s issues and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Happiness is important to these characters as it is indeed to all of us; most of us in the rat race aren’t necessarily there because we don’t want to be happy. Even mind-numbing make-work kinds of jobs can occasionally give us a feeling of satisfaction and/or accomplishment though.

There is almost a contempt for people who work here at times an that might be irritating to those who actually, you know, work. Portland can be a great place for street musicians but not all of us live there; I get that the artistic mentality is different from that of the working class and just as valid in its own way but I can see how those who work hard just to tread water might be a little bit insulted by this.

The performances are pretty decent considering that the cast is largely locals and unprofessional. I suspect Cassun comes from a musical background because his soundtrack choices betray a really good ear. The problem I had is that I couldn’t get into most of the characters; there was nothing here for me to grab onto and as a result I found myself less and less enthused about finding out what happens to Lou and his friends. By the time the Big Dig rolls around, the mystery behind Lou’s disappearance is revealed (you should be able to figure it out) and I didn’t really care very much about it to begin with.

I try to give low-budget indies a pass for the most part and it’s plain to see that the director invested heart and soul into this film but sometimes that isn’t enough. I need to be invested in the lives of the characters; I need to care about what happens to them. I need to be excited about what comes next. None of that ever happened during the film. As you can tell by the release date, it’s been bopping around the Festival circuit and otherwise sitting on the shelf for five years until Random Media got hold of it for home video release. They believe in the film and maybe you will to once you see it but this was one I never found myself connecting with.

REASONS TO SEE: Tackles the age-old question of happiness versus adulting.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little bit of a bore.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The house where the “Big Dig” takes place is actually the rehearsal space for the Portland-based band Typhoon.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/11/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Portlandia
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Them That Follow