Debuting at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Netflix’s The Social Dilemma is the latest documentary to set its sights on our social media-obsessed culture. Combining its factual ruminations with a docu-narrative hybrid approach, director Jeff Orlowski’s unique angle to the genre fails to pack a pertinent punch.
Mixing testimonies from social media executives and internet theorists, The Social Dilemma analyzes our daily relationship with these controversial platforms. What many see as a means of connecting presents wholly unknown dangers to the real world, depicting the increased misinformation and emotional apathy generated from frequent interactions. The film shows these dynamics through an interwoven subplot, which follows an ordinary family grappling with their own obsessive tendencies with media outlets.
Considering our persistent relationship with smartphones, The Social Dilemma does have some relevant information to relay. Orlowski’s film works when it dives deeply into the nuances behind social media’s uncontrollable nature, particularly how platforms operate as destructive forces against democracy. The increase in polarization and ill-advised propaganda are harmful symptoms of our new reality, showcasing toxic issues that could become fatal if not recognized. I do think people utilize social media without recognizing the consequences behind their behaviors, with this film offering a vital roadmap for those who aren’t as informed.
The Social Dilemma will give audiences a serviceable roadmap of these problems, but it lacks the nuance to convey their full extent. Orlowski’s approach spreads itself thin, dancing around different facets without rendering each with proper thought and insights. It’s clear this film could’ve benefited from a deeper roster of interview subjects, skewing their focus towards elitist tech workers rather than capturing those at the ground floor of these side-effects (would have loved insights from someone directly impacted by Facebook’s altering of democratic values). This approach delivers a film that settles on simplistic conclusions that add nothing new to the conversation.
The Social Dilemma tries to imbue a fresh change of pace through its semi-narrative approach, yet its inclusion acts as an unwarranted distraction. Orlowski’s lack of experience in narrative filmmaking is on full display, crafting segments that reek of sitcom-y contrivances and hackneyed dialogue. Skylar Gisondo and Kara Hayward are capable actors straddled with thankless roles, as the after school special narrative only stands to display obvious reinactments rather than further enhancing the concepts onscreen (the narrative feels so poorly constructed, journeying down bizarre plot threads without an ounce of development).
Despite highlighting vital subject matter, The Social Dilemma only offers half-baked truths.
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