Frankie (Maya Hawke of Stranger Things) lives a monotonous life as a disrespected bartender with dreams of making mainstream online content—whatever that is—but things haven’t quite panned out. After meeting Link (Andrew Garfield), an eccentric drifter with contempt for people’s low entertainment standards, the two hatch a plot to degrade the beautiful people industry by infiltrating it, with Link becoming the influencer type he’s long despised.
Despite its head-scratching setup, Mainstream is an energetic if perplexing ride. It can be funny and shocking, yet the more versed you are in modern internet culture, the less shocked you’re bound to be by its machinations.
Like Garfield’s character here, influencers are often good-looking winners of some cosmic genetic lottery who are rewarded for ultimately doing very little (“Viewers aren’t looking for entertainment, they’re just horny,” one character muses). There’s a lot to unpack there, and plenty to criticize, but rather than dive into a more astute or nuanced analysis of the what and why of influencer culture, Mainstream’s commentary comes across like the crotchety old person screaming at youths who embrace a system put into place long before they could work within it. What the film hints at, however—like how race, socioeconomics and corporate forces fuel marketing in terrifying ways and keep the capitalist juggernaut going—is unceremoniously pushed aside for the more obvious points about internet celebrity. The messaging feels murky, and if director Gia Coppola hoped to hold a mirror up to society, she has done so fleetingly; audiences will either already jive with the film’s message with little need for prodding, or they’ll file it under “OK, Boomer.”
Coppola has a cinematic eye that feels otherwise absent within the contemporary indie scene, but while she can build a great frame and direct actors, her film suffers from the horrid creative decision to bring on real-world influencers like Jake Paul, Casey Frey and others. Maybe these small cameos were meant to add realism, but giving such people the very audience Mainstream is out to critique is bizarre. Why did Coppola think this would work?
Garfield is insane here, however, and totally in his element playing Link with an astonishing devotion that occasionally inches past too far. He’s the kind of actor who’d have chemistry with a flagpole, so for for any Garfield stans in search of his increasingly bizarre roles, this is the sweet spot. This is his film, too, even if Coppola’s messaging feels so 2005.
+ Garfield’s energy off the charts
- Tells us nothing new
Directed by Coppola
With Garfield and Hawke
VoD, R, 94 min.