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Legendary pro wrestler “Stone Cold” Steve Austin supposedly advises rookie grapplers to pick an aspect of their respective personalities and amplify it in order to make a lasting impression with fans. For better or worse, social media personalities and influencers seemed to have applied a similar recipe for success in their chosen occupations, magnifying their own idiosyncrasies and obsessing over nuance, details, and minutiae in an unyielding effort to remain relevant and popular. Seizing upon this Dadaesque sociocultural trend, screenwriter and director Laura Kosann has crafted the comedy film The Social Ones, which purports to offer parody and commentary of social media as both concept and phenomenon.
The Social Ones is something of a documentary-type spoof in the tradition of The Office in which a duo of senior staff at a magazine attempts to bring together the top (fictionalized) influencers and personalities of each social major media platform for a photoshoot for the ages. Along the way, the audience meets each social media luminary, and of course, they all epitomize the worst hyperbolic foibles of real-world Internet sensations. A plot twist of sorts results in one of the most influential ‘net celebs flaking out and leaving the magazine folks and his fellow social media cohorts hanging as he goes on a nonsensical quest for self-realization.
It would be a nice gesture to claim that The Social Ones is simply too good at lampooning the most objectionable standouts of present-day pop culture. But the fact of the matter is that if that is indeed the task at hand, then it’s simply too easy to poke fun such types and too difficult to ultimately turn them into redeemable character. Indeed, not a single character in The Social Ones is even slightly likable or relatable and the longer any of them are on screen, it becomes more difficult to tolerate them, much less to empathize with them or to root for them. Perhaps Sheila Berger, played by That 70’s Show alumnus Debra Jo Rupp, emerges as the closest offering to an original and intriguing character here, but even by the end of the film, as each cast learns his or her respective “truth” about the importance of real-world interaction, her novelty wears thin, much like the general concept of the film itself. Even Richard Kind, a veteran of television with a particular flair for comedic endeavors, doesn’t bring much to the table here, as his performance is overshadowed by the positively ridiculous premise of his character.
All told, The Social Ones is not so much of a satire as it is a painful reminder of how predictable and shallow some aspects of popular culture have become over the course of the past decade or so. Granted, The Social Ones might elicit a chuckle or two for folks in the audience who find some kind enjoyment in following the exploits of self-aggrandizing narcissists. But those who find such behavior annoying and contemptible likely won’t find much entertainment in this effort.
Inside Your Head doffs our proverbial cap to The Social Ones with a modicum of regard, giving the movie one out of five golden tophats.
– Mike Bessler, February 2020
In his 2007 book I Am A Strange Loop, scholar Douglas Hofstadter described the memory of an individual as a sort of mosaic comprised of “coarser grain” and like “blurry copies” of that person’s experiences and encounters. While the march of time contributes to the general fuzziness of memories as they become more and more distant, sentimentality might sometimes color the perceptions of reminiscences, as well. So when the opportunity emerges to chronicle the rise and demise of an influential cultural force as The Band, it’s surely a daunting challenge to wade through decades of emotion and influence to assemble a compelling and accurate depiction of the group, both as people and as a phenomenon. Thankfully, Daniel Roher and a team of producers were up for the challenge, as is evident by their 2019 film Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band.
The film presents a stirring depiction of the Canadian group The Band, told mostly from the perspective of Robbie Robertson, who served as a guitarist and songwriter for the group. His recollections, told in intimate, confessional-style interviews, are complemented by accounts from his peers and fellow travelers, including blues icon Taj Mahal, filmmaker Martin Scorsese, and celebrated recording artist Bob Dylan. Dylan, who was backed by The Band from 1965 to 1967, is arguably one of the most important presences in the film (perhaps a close second to Robertson himself) as his firsthand accounts of The Band during its formative years provide invaluable texture to the stuff of rock legend. Roher’s use of archival footage in this endeavor is particularly noteworthy, offering candid and somewhat rare glimpses into the process and product of The Band at all stages of their collective and individual endeavors.
Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band is a rock and roll enthusiast’s dream, told in documentary style but infused with the kind of detail and pathos that lend essential credibility to its overarching narrative. Although a certain subgroup of critical viewers may lament the emphasis on Robertson’s role in the story, it is largely his accounts that ensure that the portrait of The Band that emerges through Once Were Brothers is sharp and defined so that its finer points aren’t reduced to just another fuzzy mosaic.
Inside Your Head offers a tip of the cap to Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band, awarding the film four out of five golden tophats.
The 2014 killing of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Missouri shook many Americans out of their longstanding complacency and indifference and served as a catalyst for new action and avocacy around the U.S. For many African-Americans, the tragic incident also reinforce the day-to-day reality that present-day conditions are rooted in the inequality, disparity, and violence have been common threads in the social fabric of America since its origin. St. Louis resident Bruce Franks Jr. took the shooting death of Brown as a clarion call of sorts, carrying the mantle of social activism straight into the Missouri House of Representatives and his work as an activist, organizer, and political force is chronicled in the Oscar-nominated short documentary St. Louis Superman.
In St. Louis Superman, Sami Khan and Smriti Mundhra share a multi-faceted profile of Bruce Franks Jr., offering insight on the many factors that have forged the 34-year-old’s world view and driven his efforts, from his work in the political arena and in the streets to intimate time spent with family and community. The presentation of the film isn’t particularly flashy or innovative but then again, it doesn’t have to be, as the story itself is thought-provoking and engaging.
Emerging as a common thread in the narrative of St. Louis Superman is the profound loss suffered by Harris at an early age when his older brother was killed in a shooting. In 1991, Christopher Harris was caught in a police shootout when a man used him as a human shield. Christopher was only nine years old when he was killed, just three years older than Frank. Throughout the course of his life, Christopher’s presence has remained at the forefront for Frank and in one particularly emotional scene of the film, St. Louis community honors the memory of his brother by dedicating a statue of Christopher at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital.
Stirring and inspirational, St. Louis Superman offers a stark reminder that there are many pressing issues and tasks ahead in order to fundamentally change American society for the benefit of future generations. To be sure, the rigors of struggle and survival have already been significant for Frank, who has decided to take a break from public life to cope with mounting depression and anxiety. With so much left to be done, America needs many more people with his spirit and vision.
St. Louis Superman is a powerful documentary with an important message. Inside Your Head offers props to the film and those behind it, awarding it four and a half out of five golden top hats.