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A Review of "Internet Famous" (2016)

If I ever rewrite the dictionary, I'm going to use the poster for Internet Famous as my definition of "mixed bag."  It's been awhile since I've seen something that has so violently throttled me back and forth from annoyed to entertained.

It's a low-budget mockumentary (I know, I know, aren't all mockumentaries low-budget?), and as such, it falls back on the familiar premise of an ensemble cast of oddballs that's getting ready for a huge competition / performance where they will publicly confront their demons.  In this particular case, the ensemble is made up of five Internet celebrities who are competing for the chance to star in their own TV show produced by a vapid talk show host named Chris!.  (As the movie explains in one of the throwaway jokes that actually work, the exclamation point is his last name.)

The ensemble is a fairly well-balanced, if somewhat predictable, cross-section of the types of people who attain fame via the Internet.  There's a Justin Bieber stand-in, a Star Wars Kid stand-in, a cat video producer stand-in, a big-chested model, and a somewhat out-of-touch dad who posts videos of his baby daughter.  Some of these characters work better than others, which is a big reason for the uneven quality of the jokes.

True to form, the Internet has latched onto the less-than-stellar parts.  As I write this, it has a painful 3.5 on IMDb and 2.5 stars on Netflix, where it's available to stream.  I can't say it deserves significantly more than that, but I do feel like there's enough merit here for a light recommendation.  I'm tempted to give it an artificially high score just to even things out.

Instead, I'll handle it like this.  Why don't I get all the bad news out of the way first and then go on to the good?

So, here's the deal.  The ending is pretty shitty.  In most mockumentaries, they save at least a few of the best laughs for the big competition sequence since you want to leave your audience on a high note.  Internet Famous, unfortunately, seems to run completely out of steam by that point.

Part of the problem is that two of the characters have exactly one joke to tell and it has worn out its welcome by the third act.  The big-chested lady (Amanda Cerny) thinks that her stupid animal puns are actually funny and isn't aware that the reason people watch her videos is to ogle her.  And the guy who makes the cat videos (Richard Ryan) is annoyed that people only recognize his cat, but don't give a crap about the work he puts into editing and producing his footage.  The actors in question do their best, but unfortunately, they're only briefly funny early on.

Cerny is hit by the dead horse beating worst of all.  She does a pretty good job of being a vapid sex bomb, but in this day and age, isn't that too cheap a joke?  There's so much more potential for comedy here.  What if she was totally self aware about her body and her fans, and her conflict is about how she wants to be taken more seriously as a comedienne?  Like, maybe she has tried to make actual jokes before, but the Internet is full of douchebags who keep shooting that stuff down, and the only way she gets any Youtube hits is to wear skimpy outfits and pretend to be a ditz?  In the context of the Internet's temper tantrum over the Ghostbusters remake, this would be pitch perfect.

But I digress... the ending.  Man.  What a sad way to go.

It's not helped any by the panel of judges at the competition, who are just trying waaaaaay too hard.  There's a catty, bitchy type played by Missi Pyle, an intentionally unfunny, dry guy played by Adam Busch, and then a spastic, over-the-top fat oaf played by somebody whose name I didn't catch.  Probably better that I didn't - because frankly, that guy's terrible.  Like, I'm sure he was doing his best, and I know the point of his character is that he's an unfunny goofball, but... please.  Don't do that, guy.  It's embarrassing.

The judges aren't introduced until the third act and then suddenly they start doing all the heavy lifting on the comic front.  It's a huge misstep in what is already a lackluster finish, and consequently, I think a lot of people will come away from the movie thinking it's worse than it is.  A bad ending is so much harder to handle than a bad beginning.

Now, about the first hour...

Despite all my complaints above, there's a lot of funny stuff in this movie and a couple of really good performances. The one who steals the show for the most part is Steve Greene, who plays the dad I mentioned way back when.  He's an aloof husband to a high profile executive type, and since he spends all day hanging out with his daughter, he's struggling to maintain some grasp on social relevance.  His shtick is that he stages elaborate pranks / performance art pieces in front of his daughter to scare the ever-loving shit out of her, then records her reactions and puts them on Youtube.  One of the tamer ones is when he sets himself on fire.

He's a solid character and Greene hits it home every time he's on screen.  His character is one of the few that actually gets an arc of some sort, too, and it's a pleasure to watch how it takes a dramatic, life-changing event to get him to realize, "Hey, maybe scaring my infant daughter into hysterics week after week isn't a good idea."

Shane Dawson has some funny moments, too.  He's a vain singer named Tomas Butterman who performs parodies of pop songs in collaboration with his flamboyantly gay partner, Hank Delacord (Christian Delgrosso).  Shane is almost a one-note character - asshole child with money loves himself too much - but because the movie makes him the butt of as many jokes as possible and because Dawson plays the role so well, he drove a lot of laughs for me.  Delgrosso is pretty great, too - he spends virtually the entire movie screwing around and being funny in the sidelines.

Rounding out the cast is Wendy McColm, an unintentionally famous young woman who was recorded doing a silly dance (the "wobbly walk") that was later remixed and watched over a billion times.  McColm is not especially funny, but that's okay - she's meant to serve as the film's rock, the straight (wo)man who keeps it centered.  She does a great job of doing exactly that.

But if I was going to give away an award for "Best Performance" to anybody in the movie, it would have to go to two young actresses who barely qualify as "bit parts."  I think the actresses' names are Lizzie Allen and Alyssa Anderson - it's hard to tell from the cast list because they literally only show up for thirty seconds to gush and scream about how much they love Tomas and Hank.  I know it's just supposed to be a throwaway moment, but they nail it perfectly.  In the span of twenty seconds, they reveal not only that their pet name for the pair is "Hamas," but they also have a fantastic, Tina Belcher-ish geek-out over the thought of Hamas slash fiction.  And then they're gone.  Boom, funny joke, boom, funny joke, mic drop, gone.  That's a performance.  Good job, kids!

This is actually a pretty good summary of the movie in general.  All the funniest stuff is in the asides, the throwaway gags, the little touches off in the corner, the background acting.  All the stuff that makes you groan is put front and center.  The cast is altogether pretty good and knows how to tell a joke, but when the movie tries to force it out of them, they choke.  I wish I could take the movie aside and pat its back and say, "It's okay, guy.  Don't try so hard.  Just be yourself and let the jokes come naturally."

So, yeah, "mixed bag" is right.  I think I enjoyed it enough that I'll give it a slightly-north-of-the-fence score of 3 / 5.  It's worth your time to check out, but if you're really pressed, you can just turn it off once the judges show up and save about half an hour.