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Like Me

Kino // Unrated // April 3, 2018
List Price: $34.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted April 10, 2018 | E-mail the Author
Is there a riper subject out there today that filmmakers seem less prepared to tackle than social media? Admittedly, in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica revelations involving stolen facebook data, maybe the public has a reason to distrust these places, especially as all of them, including Twitter and YouTube, are also teeming with harassment stemming from the keyboards of the networks' worst users. Yet, Like Me (along with the similarly disappointing 2017 release Ingrid Goes West) is a frustratingly myopic portrait of the so-called dangers of social media that feels like it was the brainchild of someone who don't actually understand -- or care -- if their estimation of the site has any bearing on reality.

The film follows Kiya (Addison Timlin), a young and lonely girl who gains an audience overnight when she uploads a video of herself tormenting a random convenience store clerk (Jeremy Gardner) to a YouTube-like site. The responses to her video, positive and negative, all seem to delight her, with the exception of a cruel response video by a self-anointed genius named Burt (Ian Nelson). Kiya tries some other things in search of connection, such as feeding a homeless man (John O'Creagh), but strikes gold again when she lures a hotel manager named Marshall (Larry Fessenden, also a producer on the film) to her room, films herself force-feeding him junk food until he vomits, and then kidnaps him. The pair form an unusual friendship that seems to stave off Kiya's emptiness, but can it last?

To get to the positive first, Like Me may not be a great depiction of social media, but it is a compelling portrait of estrangement. Fessenden, always a welcome screen presence, is lovely as Marshall, a potentially perverted man with one painful secret and a hotel full of rooms he gorgeously transformed into live-in murals. He and Timlin, who exudes sweetness even when she's doing something manipulative or villainous, have an easy and unforced chemistry. It's hard not to wish that the movie was solely focused on their unusual situation. In addition, the film has some stunning cinematography. The combined efforts of writer/director Robert Mockler, DP James Siewert, and colorist Blase Theodore, the film is an almost non-stop visual dazzler, full of neon pinks and purples, a wildly roving camera, taking place in a world that is both recognizable as reality and completely surreal. Limited computer effects, such a tense sequence in a car, are incredibly impressive as well. The film's visual style is a masterclass on uniting a low-budget movie into a coherent, polished picture that looks far more expensive than it is.

Sadly, these positives only make it frustrating that Mockler doesn't appear to have much to say about the appeal of social media beyond suggesting that the allure of approval from strangers can lead to destructive behavior. It seems notable that both Like Me and Ingrid Goes West were written and directed by men, yet both films are centered around women, who are also generally the audience for the type of social media interactions that both movies are out to depict -- it'll be interesting to see if a young female filmmaker has more insightful commentary on the Snapchat generation. Within the film, the audience that is supposed to be driving Kiya's actions rarely feels present in her life or even her state of mind, making a crucial destructive decision motivating the film's final act feel unmotivated. There is also the character of Burt, who Mockler seems to want to humanize in the end, but in a world where Twitter trolls and misogynists routinely doxx women out of their homes for daring to have an opinion, the effort isn't appreciated. Mockler also stumbles occasionally with an image that lands with a thud, such as a campfire made out of screens -- yeah, we get it.

The bulk of the movie is good, focusing both on the interplay between Kiya and Marshall, as well as her encounter with the homeless man. Not only are these scenes unpredictable, but they add a humanity to the movie that helps fill in Kiya as a character, who Mockler would rather observe than explain (not necessarily a problem). It's clear that Mockler has a skill with character, and when the film is focused on character, it comes alive. Too bad his shallow critique of social media that forms the structure and bookends his film ultimately derails that material -- ironic for a movie that seems to argue that social media saps our humanity.

The Blu-ray
Kino Lorber has preserved the film's gorgeous painted poster artwork, depicting Kiya on the beach sitting on top of the hood of her car. The image effectively evokes the neon pink-and-purpose aesthetic of the film's hyper-stylized cinematography. The one-disc release comes in a Viva Elite Blu-ray case, and there is no insert.

The Video and Audio
The centerpiece of Like Me is its cinematography, and while some viewers may bristle at the look of the film itself, Kino's 1.85:1 1080p AVC video presentation is not to blame. The film slips in and out of various video formats, including low-quality cell phone HD and even analog VHS tape, but the majority of the movie is captured in a super-crisp, grainless HD video that moves so smoothly it creates a bit of the dreaded "soap opera" effect one gets by watching movies with motion smoothing on. Colors are extremely, eye-poppingly vibrant, each piercing pink and neon purple leaping off the screen, and depth is out of this world. Occasional color bleed or mushiness creeps in, but the film is such a dazzler in the cinematography department it's hard to mind.

Yet, the picture may be surpassed by the film's wildly engrossing DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, which is a wild cacophany of drug-induced hyperkinetic madness. The precision with which dialogue is centered amid musical and aural chaos is exceptionally impressive, and the design of the mix pushes textural effects to the forefront in a way that helps accentuate the film's mildly grotesque style. Music is rendered with ease as well, and the overall experience is a trip. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included.

The Extras
Two minor extras are included. A "Making-of Documentary" (4:54) takes a mostly non-conventional approach, stitching together brief snippets of B-roll and home video from the set (and I mean extremely brief) into a rapid-fire collage of random moments. Near the end, there is also a fascinating before-and-after glimpse of the film's beautiful color timing, as well as a single VFX comparison. The disc concludes with a photo gallery (7:28), and both a SXSW trailer and the film's original theatrical trailer.

Like Me is an intriguing feature, thanks to the performances and writing of the characters, as well as the movie's spectacular visuals. The social commentary, on the other hand, is not so sharp. Kino Lorber's Blu-ray holds up the presentation end, even if the extras are anemic. Rent It.

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