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Clickbait
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by Jay Seaver

"YouTube: The Movie."
3 stars

SCREENED AT BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL 21: I haven't exactly warmed on "Clickbait" in the days between seeing it and sitting down to write about it - I certainly don't want to watch it again - but I've perhaps grown to begrudgingly accept that what came across as weaknesses may not entirely be so, especially for those whose ages and experiences are closer to those of its characters. It's got the same energy as the YouTube videos it comments on, and maybe that just can't translate to a feature-length film.

Not that YouTube is ever mentioned; college student Bailey (Amanda Colby Stewart) makes "flashes" for "Str33ker", her shy roommate Emma (Brandi Aguilar) often the one behind the camera. Pretty and irreverent, Bailey is popular online, but it can be hard to maintain that position especially after having broken up with fellow Str33ker star Brayden (Cedric Jonathan). To make matters worse, she's got a stalker, and the detective assigned to the case, Frank Dobson (Seth Chatfied), is lazy at best and a more or less complete moron, leaving Emma to figure out who's coming after her often-ungrateful friend.

There's a thing going on in the background where a product called "Toot Strudel" (radioactive Pop-Tarts in wacky, unappealing flavors) is sponsoring some sort of contest where Str33ker users compete to make the most popular testimonial, and it's as good an example as any of how Clickbait can often be authentic and satiric but not exactly good: Yes, it does a capable job of highlighting and exaggerating how willing internet celebrities are to monetize their work and how businesses are willing to offer them a pittance to do so, but these gags stop the movie dead and aren't very funny; they require the audience to stop and sort of performatively laugh at how they recognize the broad, knowing absurdity of it. It's dead-on in portraying a certain type of YouTube video, but whether mere replication is enough in this case is a fair question.

The whole movie feels like an internet comedy sketch stretched to feature length, from eccentric jokes bordering on surrealism to cameos by the filmmakers and their friends. It's mashed together into something resembling a story, with moments of sudden sharpness that seem a bit out of place but hint at potential. It's clumsy even when ambitious - consider an early shot which has Bailey's head taking up half the screen while Emma sits in a couch in the background, the pair talking without Bailey ever looking at her roommate; it emphasizes how they relate to each other and the world at large but feels too obviously staged to make much of an impression beyond its own cleverness.

The movie still gets the occasional laugh, both because of the absurdity and because Amanda Colby Stewart, in particular, is able to grab hold of Bailey and make her just the right level of aware and willing to exploit what being a pretty young blonde gets her. She's got a bit of an edge in that Bailey is written to be charismatic and fun, while Brandi Aguilar tends to get a few reaction shots to work with at best, and really almost no way to get where the film has her going by the end. The movie rises and falls on how well they can work together - the rest of the cast really doesn't give them much help at all - and in the moments when they click together, or can at least separately work their characters' respective maniacal confidence or stunned incredulity despite the script making them a little dumber than necessary, Clickbait most feels like a real movie.

Those moments don't come as often as one might hope, although I wonder if seeing it in a theater during a festival did it a disservice. "Clickbait" would seemingly be most at home on the laptop screens where its characters hope to go viral, with the credit-card budget not so exposed and the idiosyncratic personality either working or not rather than often only hitting part of the audience. Its as much of that medium as about it, for better or worse.

link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=32848&reviewer=371
originally posted: 04/20/19 10:27:01
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: Boston Underground Film Festival 21 For more in the Boston Underground Film Festival 21 series, click here.

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