Mainstream is built upon an important question, “Do you want to make art or do you want to chase affirmations from faceless strangers?” Set in modern times and following the life of a wasted youth, the film portrays a picture of growing social media culture in our society where everyone is a content creator. Some people took the liberating arts philosophy too seriously and started making art for the sake of making it, without having anything to say. Its repercussions are what we see today, a society filled with influencers seeking validation through content which no one could even dare to call “art”.
The protagonist, Frankie (Maya Hawke) is a young girl who works in a bar as a waitress cum clown for the Bar’s stand-up artists. But it isn’t the real Frankie. In reality, she is an astray individual who lost her father in an accident and for which she blames herself. Her mother never approved of herself and therefore Frankie is surviving on her own in this big vacuum, while also seeking approval and love. Frankie also likes making videos and the Internet (YouTube) is her medium. It is how she meets a young hippy-kind-of-guy, Link (Andrew Garfield) who is literally crazy and always has something to say and never shuts his mouth.
Frankie records Link’s video doing crazy stuff outside the mall. She uploads the video online and it soon becomes the most popular video on Frankie’s channel, which is not much, as her earlier videos didn’t garner that much popularity. It records around 2k views which for an optimistic Frankie means a lot. The video brings Frankie and Link together and they decide to make more videos with Link saying things as always and Frankie shooting him in a way that makes the videos look impromptu and real. They also invite Frankie’s colleague from the bar, Jake, who is a talented singer and songwriter.
The trio starts creating goofy videos with Link ranting on the internet over the use of cell phones. He also wears a fictitious name, “No One Special.” Link creates his legacy by influencing people not to use mobile/internet but eventually becomes the preacher who doesn’t follow his own religion. Like it is said, power doesn’t make you evil, it only amplifies what’s already there. The narrative follows the riches to rags story of Frankie.
Major Spoilers Ahead
‘Mainstream’ Ending Explained
In art, why are you telling a story is sometimes more important than the story itself. Technically, it is the soul of your narrative. What Frankie was creating with Link was a gimmick and at the back of his head, Link always knew that they were going to fall short of ideas and it was threatening his hunger for attention. During a talk show, Link deviates from the original script and improvises, however, his words become humiliating. The event breaks their team and also inflicts doubt in Frankie’s mind.
Later, Jake who left the team reveals to Frankie that Link isn’t what he is pretending to be. Link told Frankie that his parents are dead while the truth was, His real name was Alexander Goodwrich, an extremely narcissistic rich kid who left his house in anger. Link, not only shows extreme narcissism but also exhibits psychopathic tendencies. He likes attention and he plays with one’s emotion to gain sympathy.
Frankie leaves him in the end after learning that the girl he humiliated on the talk show had committed suicide. Frankie who once lost her father couldn’t survive any more guilt. Before leaving Link, she blames herself for the death speaking out loud, “I could have stopped you. But I didn’t.”
She created a monster. Link might not be an artist but he is highly infectious and influencing. He knows how to play with one’s mind and soul. While hosting a YouTube live stream event, he tricks the audience and blames the death of Isabelle Roberts upon the audience/viewers. He accuses them of using Link as a source of entertainment and then compelling him to say things that increase views, he did everything for views and they made him do it. In the end, the audience cheers his name which ironically symbolizes the world we are living in.
Narratively, Mainstream spotlights prominent topics and questions about the social media generation. In this era, the creators are ready to go to any extent to generate views and become popular. Like the film, Ask Me Anything (2014) quotes, “Our generation is addicted to attention. It’s like we all want to become famous even though we are good at anything.”
Before the youtube event, Frankie asks Link what was he going to say during the event, to which he replies that he hasn’t figured it out. They are gonna scream anyway. Through this particular line, Mainstream underlines the major issue with content creators today. They have nothing to say but yet they want to be famous. To fulfill their ambitions they resort to ulterior measures like nudity, deprecating humor, and verbal/physical abuses online. A glimpse of the same could be experienced in the film too. Ironically, Link was the same guy who advised Frankie not to seek validation but when fame arrived at his doorstep, he became everything he was preaching against.
The film has no dull moments and is based on an important theme, yet the film fails to appeal. In the entire film, there isn’t much at stake. For example, the character has nothing to lose, the fame, the success, they never had it in the first place and even the drama doesn’t build around it. They never go to any dramatic extent to stop the consequences. In short, everything feels like it is happening on an auto mode and characters are going with the flow.
With a weak script as its foundation, an important message is lost in oblivion. The whole film is more of a chatterbox than an emotional ride. Andrew Garfield playing Link was energetic and highly disappointing. For other actors, there wasn’t much to do.
If you are looking for anything impacting, there is Bo Burnham’s film, Eighth Grade (2018) that is a subtle but highly moving drama about a girl trying to be a social influencer.
Mainstream is a 2021 dramedy film directed by Gia Coppola. It stars Maya Hawke and Andrew Garfield in the main roles. The film is available for Video On Demand.
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