Set in upstate New York, we follow a group of youngsters who crave fame, from reality TV hopeful Katelyn (Meredith Hagner), to aspiring rapper Cory (Jake Cherry) to hipster political activist Donovan (James Adomian). However it seems the one person who is achieving the fame they all desire, is Kate’s beleaguered father Dave (Matt Walsh), who has become an overnight YouTube sensation following his public rants to the local council.
Though the message to this piece is certainly a pertinent one, exploring the lengths people will go for a brief spell in the limelight, it’s one that has been unsubtly enforced in its execution. Satire thrives on subtlety and simplicity, getting a message across powerfully, yet without the need for overstatement. This struggles to be either intelligent nor witty, and they’re arguably the two most important elements in a triumphant satire, meaning this picture falls somewhat flat. Also, you do feel that despite the relevance in the themes, the opportunity to ridicule celebrity culture has passed somewhat, as we’ve almost grown so accustomed to it that it’s become the norm, and therefore this is not quite as impactful as it may have been a few years ago.
What comes with the territory of exploring a series of deluded, ignorant characters all chasing fame in some way, is that they’re all increasingly unlikeable. Though the structure is well-crafted with minimum contrivance, with our characters all linked in some way, appearing almost as a relay race as pass on the baton to others as we move between scenes, the film is lacking heavily from being without any one protagonist. We need a cipher to channel the viewer, to be placed in this quite eccentric world and be able to see the absurdity of it all. Without a character of this ilk we struggle to connect with any one in particular, somehow making a world that’s all too relatable, seem somewhat unrecognisable.
The comedy is misjudged too, as a film that’s not particularly funny. Though that’s not always a bad thing when a film is hardly confined to the said genre, it merely highlights the fact the audience are not quite on board with what Cross is attempting to achieve, which extends to other areas of the film. That said, there is undoubtedly a lot to be admired about this piece, and Cross has shown a lot of promise in just his directorial debut. But, going back to Rupert Pupkin for one final time, when the Robert De Niro character claims that it’s “better to be king for a night, than shcmuck for a lifetime” – sadly this film deals too prominently in the latter.