Mainstream Synopsis: A longing artist vying to be seen, Frankie (Maya Hawke) finds a path to internet stardom when she starts making videos with Link (Andrew Garfield), a charismatic stranger with an alluring hold on the camera. Alongside her coworker Jake (Nat Wolff), the trio makes waves on the internet through their unconventional methods, a dangerous unkempt streak that could lead to their demise.
While the film registered a minor dent on the zeitgeist, Gia Coppola’s meditative, angst-drive debut Palo Alto left a sizable impact on me. Akin to her well-statured relatives, Coppola exhibited a poised reverence for honest emotionality amidst her insecure teen protagonists. The film powerfully echoes with longing and open-hearted vulnerabilities, reflecting genuine adolescent sentiments in ways few coming-of-age tales can match (I can’t forget to mention Devonte Hynes’ affectingly atmospheric score).
Coppola now returns to the screen with Mainstream, a sleek LA satire of three dreamers vying for YouTube stardom under the guise thoughtful of artistic expression. The subject matter couldn’t feel more timely, but Coppola’s abrasive bold streak never masks the oppressive shallowness.
Social media presents vast opportunities for meaningful critiques (look at the numerous stories centered around the sinister undertones behind influencer personalities). Coppola’s screenplay seems to have a pulse on the platforms’ oppressive superficiality and degrading undertones, but her approach never feels connected to the real-world intricacies. Link makes a few obvious parodies of basic bro influencers before creating a dated game show format that doesn’t reflect modern social media tendencies (it felt more connected to a parody of bad TV game shows).
Everything is so overproduced and gimmicky instead of the artificially-built realism real influencers represent. With all the inauthentic frames, Coppola’s thematic connotations never range much deeper than a stern finger wag at the audience (the plotting’s obvious nature doesn’t allow ideas to ruminate naturally). The strained screenplay choices impact the character building the most, with none of the lead trio developing a persona outside of stereotypical contrivances. Frankie and Jake’s aspirational spirits lack substantive shading while Link’s wild-child persona is vacant of emotional intimacy. Audiences never get a sense of what motivates the three outside of the screenplay’s formulaic storytelling whims.
After exhibiting poetic restraint with Palo Alto, Coppola strives for a bolder visual profile with largely mixed results. Imbuing high-energy visuals makes sense as a compliment to the material’s boisterous vapid streak, yet Coppola and cinematographer Autumn Durald settle for a visual busyness that lacks grace. Waves of emoticons and text notifications establish a cheap veneer from social media’s high-flying activity. All the visual flourishes feel oddly akin to Link’s desperate pleas for attention. So much about this film screams for viewers interest, but both the visuals and storytelling are not equipped for the task.
Even as the film ambitiously flops, Mainstream still extracts a level of prolific entertainment. Audiences are destined to be hit or miss on Andrew Garfield’s abrasive turn as the vlogging try-hard Link, but I thought his manic mannerisms manifest a level of reality from the character’s nonstop posturing. The film is at its best when Link’s unkempt dangers are released, including a show-stopping dance finale representative of the film’s sinister connotations (the film generates its best laughs when leaning into the ridiculousness of Link’s).
I wanted so badly for Mainstream to work. Coppola’s film presents fascinating potential, but the film rarely lives up to its idealistic concepts.