Social media’s superficial embrace of confectionery realities often dominates millennial’s attention, as well as garnering the interest of some well-tuned filmmakers. Indie efforts like Ingrid Goes West, Assassination Nation, and Disconnect have aptly encapsulated the shallow thrills of these platforms, developing thoughtfully-constructed critiques that are equally timely and impactful. The latest venture to utilize the fame-obsessed culture of social media is Infamous, a twist on the Bonnie and Clyde formula that proves to be just as vapid as the generation it condemns.
Infamous follows Arielle (Bella Thorne), a wistful teen who spends her days glued to her phone hoping to become a famous fixture. When she meets ex-convict Dean (Jake Manley), the two find themselves on the run after an accidental crime, robbing their way across America while posting their exploits on social media.
Star Bella Thorne has displayed glimmers of acting ability, but Infamous is the first feature where she grabs the reins. Playing Arielle as a vivacious teen discontented with her simplistic life, Thorne imbues the role with a rebellious spirit and sharp edge that grabs the screen, energetically chewing the scenery while keeping audiences on their toes. Her abrasive persona is well-matched by director Joshua Caldwell’s stylistic bend, with the inclusion of frenzied camerawork and wistful pop tracks capturing Arielle and Dean’s sporadic rise to fame.
Infamous has style and energy to spare, but it lacks the wherewithal to execute its conceptually promising nucleus. Unlike 2019’s emotionally moving Queen and Slim, Caldwell’s screenplay does little to reinvent its narrative origins, following the “lovers on the run” plotline with no interesting deviations. It doesn’t help that the dialogue feels excruciatingly obvious, with the characters awkwardly spelling out their every whim and desire.
This over-simplification also impacts our controversial central figures. While I give Thorne credit for making Arielle entertaining to follow, the character is derived from any complexion or emotionality, with her psychotic pursuit of fame and attention making her read as a cartoonishly bitter edge lord. Jake Manley holds his own as Dean, but his role as Arielle’s wet blanket voice of reason gives the actor very little to work with. I am fine with central characters being wholly unlikable, but Caldwell misses the opportunity to densely analyze the conditions that form their personas.
It’s clear to see where Infamous attempts to indict social media culture, but Caldwell seems over his head in creating a thematically enriched message. Any attempt to poke fun at media’s penchant for titillating actions fails to connect, with his established world being too far-fetched from the world we live in. To act as if brutally violent crimes against innocent people would become a celebrated phenome rather than a condemned reality feels diluted, with Caldwell’s script viewing the platform from the most jaded light rather than having a nuanced take.
Infamous has the bones to be the next searing portrait of our social media-obsessed culture, but its stylistic presentation fails to hide the film’s meager substantive value.
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