The impersonal, easily-hoaxed nature of our digital existence is lightly sent up in “People You May Know,” a romance set in the age of Google.
It’s a Facebook/Snapchat/Twitter zeitgeist film built around “What can we really know about a person when it’s so easy to fake us out?” It benefits from a smart, sassy script and winning performances from assorted pretty young things who star in it.
Jed, our 30ish hipster hero (Nick Thune) is a photo editor par excellence, a master at manipulating images, and doing it on deadline.
“Standard six-pack,” one editor begs, of a swimsuit model whose ad photos don’t quite measure up. “Blue eyes instead of green…And I need his junk to be bigger.”
Jed can accommodate that. His roomy, pricey New York loft suggests he’s the best at it.
But thinking of dating him? That could be tricky. He’s invisible online. “I never saw the point” of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
So he takes a tentative first step or two. And since his hobby is ingeniously inserting himself into other’s images — he has a studio, a high-end camera and all the shading, shaping, manipulating software in the world at his disposal — he parks himself in a few pictures he finds online.
One of them is of the pop star (and scandal-magnet) Usher Raymond. Jed makes himself Usher’s running mate during a wild Vegas weekend in one shot. And Instagram blows up.
That’s when the icy beauty he sees each day at the coffee shop, Tasha (Halston Sage) finally notices him. She’s already observed that he’s “a gentleman.” But now, as a social media marketer — part of a company that uses “influencers” to sell things via hashtags, product placement and being in the most marketable place at the right time — she sees Nice Guy Jed as a way of proving something to her boss (Carly Chaikin).
Tasha will turn Jed into a phenomenon.
“I’m interested in celebritization.”
Meanwhile, there’s this frustrated actress Jed used to pine for. Franky (Kaily Smith Westbrook) settled for a suburban, married life as a realtor, with community theater on the side. She’s unhappy about what she gave up. And when a one-time acting colleague and party girl (Gillian Alexy) drags her back to the city for a party a new “influencer” like Jed is parked in, they reconnect.
Writer-director Sherwin Shilati peoples “People” with a modeling agency of beautiful young actors, from Thune (“Dave Made a Maze”) and that born-to-play-a-mean-girl-blonde, Sage ( “Before I Fall”), to Westbrook, Chaikin (“Mr. Robot”), Ian Harding (as Franky’s husband) and Nicholas Rutherford, who plays Jed’s snarky-funny Gay Best Friend, the one who advises him to “Clooney Charm” this woman as “I’m your closest friend, you are NOT that exciting” as he is teaching him the pleasures of “Rifting” (playing the VR game Oculus Rift).
The far darker “Ingrid Goes West” (starring the Princess of Dark Comedy, Aubrey Plaza) covered some of the same ground, people creating “virtual lives” that overshadow their real ones. Jed’s tech-savvy Luddite is a forlorn observer of a lonely city made even lonelier by people’s social media/smart-phone fixation.
Millennials makes sharp observations about being the last generation to straddle the analog/digital divide, how one cannot date someone “without Googling him,” and the depressing pressure that Facebook and Instagram create, assuring everyone that you’re having a better time than you are, that your life is more fun that theirs.
All those baby pictures, humbragging about “vacations in Bali.”
“Don’t forget all those marathons people are running.”
The film’s hipsters profess a nostalgia for the way things were before smart phones, which can grate. Sentiment is unseemly in the young. The conveniently failing marriage bit sours the picture in ways that only serve the plot. And while there are laughs and tart observations, it doesn’t have the satiric punch the material demands (which “Ingrid Goes West” delivered).
But Shilati, working from a Michael Mohan story, has fired another warning shot across a disconnected, undiscriminating culture’s bow about the pitfalls of all this connectivity, creating all this “relative deprivation” (envy) as it magnifies our loneliness.
MPAA Rating: unrated, with adult situations, profanity
Cast: Nick Thune, Halston Sage, Kaily Smith Westbrook, Nicholas Rutherford, Carly Chaikin
Credits:Written and directed by Sherwin Shilati. An Orcharard release.
Running time: 1:32