The Movie Waffler First Look Review - UNDER THE INFLUENCER | The Movie Waffler


Under the Influencer review
An online influencer suffers an existential crisis as she ages out of her role.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Alex Haughey

Starring: Taylor Joree Scorse, Spencer Vaughn Kelly, Chandler Young, Zach Paul Brow

Under the Influencer poster

Full disclosure: I don't have much experience of influencers, YouTubers, internet personalities. I am a male of a certain age, after all: the only opinions I am interested in are my own. I simply ignore the doyens of social media, which is fairly easy as they chiefly exist (unlike, say, the inescapable Barbenheimer discourse or the leaden music of Sam Smith) within a segregated feedback loop between consumer and content creator, the perceived exclusivity of the relationship part of the draw I suppose. The closed circle has always made me suspicious of naysayers, too: I've no idea why people are so sniffy about influencers when the phenomena is avoidable if you're not interested, nor why an automatic suspicion abides regarding what I imagine to be harmless escapism (you know, like films, sports, books). Such unfamiliarity of the fad is perhaps beneficial to watching Under the Influencer, however, which, rather than functioning as a cutting-edge insight into the perceived absurdity of influencer culture, is instead a broad comedy for the uninitiated which trades on the accepted stereotypes of social media personalities.

Under the Influencer review

Like pop singers, athletes and a lot of movie actors, the average career of an influencer is less than a decade. And that's if you manage to successfully navigate the vagaries of the medium such as cancel culture, trends and the fickle nature of predominantly young audiences. At an ancient 25, Tori (Taylor Joree Scorse) is a YouTuber who is at the natural decline of her popularity after a decade in the game. We open, furthermore, with her awaiting results for a potentially serious health issue. Not that Tori seems bothered though, as she mugs, emojis in pink neon and overshares to her TikTok followers while her doctor attempts to deliver the concerning news. When he does, we have our fiction trigger: Tori is suddenly aware of her own mortality. Will she decide to forgo the perceived superficiality of her chosen lifestyle, and instead keep it real, whatever that means within Under the Influencer's binary expectations?

If we didn't clock that we're positioned to impugn social media, we next see Tori visit her psychiatrist, who is an older educated white man and therefore a Reliable Figure of Authority (you notice that a lot of approbation surrounding influencer culture seems to come from older men discomfited by the apparent success of younger women). The man spells it out for us by delineating Tori's "compulsive need for validation," and her "dependency" on platforms. This sort of thing always rubs me the wrong way: we all need validation, for the love of Maslow. Why is seeking it via a TikTok channel so bad? The negative paradigm is consolidated by Tori's imaginary alter ego, who spectrally appears and gives gnomic advice to our hero as a manifestation of Tori decked out in classic Hollywood look (a kettle/pot comparison of old and new media?) as she struggles to cope with an impeding diagnosis and waning reputation.

Under the Influencer review

Tori embarks on a series of increasingly humiliating streaming sessions (the most effective of which is a hatchet job conducted by a younger rival, mercilessly suggesting the cutthroat nature of the world), with the film relentlessly illustrating how fake and exploitative social media is, yeah? Even though this central theme is what Under the Influencer builds itself upon, it is reductive to judge a film solely on its ideologies. And so, in terms of filmmaking craft, Under the Influencer is pleasingly brisk and poppy, held together by the infinite charisma of Scorse, who is both funny and affecting.

Tori's immense likeability compels us through the hit and miss narrative of competing influencers, parasocial fans and diminishing returns towards a third act break down where Tori, narrowcasting on her channel, tearfully admits that she is "nothing" and loses her platinum wig. It is so *authentic*. From then on the abrupt swerve from baby blue and shocking pink colour tones into an auburn mise-en-scene expressive of the film's notions of credibility was so jarringly sudden that I thought one of the cats had accidentally changed the TV channel to Hallmark. We cut to a modestly dressed brunette Tori, hiking the hills and having a (annoying) meet cute with a rugged hunk (Sayer - Spencer Vaughn Kelly) who seems to have stepped out of a Nicholas Sparks novel, mansplaining the name Victoria (which is what the newly mature Tori goes by now, you know, like when Suga changed his name to Agust D), drivelling homespun wisdom which extols the benefits of "working outside in the dirt" and bemoaning L.A. - "concrete everywhere."

Under the Influencer review

The principles at work in Under the Influencer grate because of their lazy simplicity, which fatally undermine the hectoring polemic. There is an interesting film to be made regarding influencer culture and its finite nature, the scrabble for relevance, the rapid change in media climates; but this isn't it. Under the Influencer's apparently happy ending juxtaposes the energy and fun of the film's opening of silly scenes and Scorse's comic oomph with a deeply mundane exaltation of small c conservative values: wounded veteran Sayer is crossing country to visit his grandma, and Tori's burgeoning music career, which the film champions, is most charitably described as M.O.R.. The idea that we will share the film's assumptions - that a singer/songwriter music vocation is more culturally valuable than youtubing, that travelling aimlessly from town to town is somehow noble - is frankly insulting. Additionally, the myopic prejudice which the film harbours towards Tori's chosen career betrays Under the Influencer's limited understanding of the form, which even I can see trades in knowing irony where both producers and audiences are often aware of the medium's inherent artificiality and accept it for the trifles it offers.

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