Film Review: Like Me

A Millennial spin on toxic teenage angst, this visually thrilling film takes a jaundiced view of social-media obsession.
Specialty Releases

Seventeen-year-old Kiya (Addison Timlin) appears to have no friends, real or on social media, but she has a plan to change that—and it starts at a convenience store, where she shows up in a futuristic-looking mark, produces a gun and humiliates the clerk, shooting the whole thing on her phone. Once edited and uploaded, the video attracts attention, predictably both positive and negative. But it's not the nature of the feedback that matters: Love it or hate it, you watched Kiya's video and reacted to it.

Her biggest detractor, unfortunately, is dyspeptic social-media star Burt Walden (Ian Nelson), whose brand is the scathing takedown; he labels her "a narcissistic…dumb, bored bitch" and much, much more, which—as he clearly intends—goads her to bigger, badder things. And that challenge lands motel owner Marshall (longtime independent filmmaker Larry Fessenden, one of the film's producers) in her lens-shaped world: Her next clip shows Marshall in a truly degrading bind (literally), and makes Kiya a force with which to be reckoned…and, of course, needled by Burt.

Writer-director Robert Mockler's first film is reminiscent of both Gregg Araki's The Doom Generation (1995) and Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers (1994): At its heart is the darkness of young people living in a drug- and information-overloaded void in which no image or action means more than any other, except to the degree that it grabs attention or offers momentary respite from boredom. But there's no perverse love story in Like Me; Kiya certainly doesn't love Marshall, not even as a father figure. She doesn't even love the pet rat she acquires on impulse (perhaps because she fleetingly identifies with the little creature trapped in a tank) enough to give it a name. She's defined by an aching emptiness that leaves her desperate for attention, even though she lacks the attention span to examine her own life and, by extension, what she might actually want. There's just too much else flickering before her mind's eye, snippets of cartoons, children's shows that were old before she was born (Hello, “Kukla, Fran and Ollie”!), arcade games, lighted motel signs, informational videos, even a TV screen animated by shimmering static.

While Timlin gives a strong performance as a character whose inner life is as stunted as her emotional range, the film's pulse comes from its rapid-fire montages of familiar images—even if you don't recognize many or all of them, you recognize what they are, part of a visual soundtrack driven by web-browsing, channel-switching, meme-following, audio-collaging, Snapchatting and every other form of "ooooooh-shiny!" visual chaos that drowns out sustained thought or considered reaction. In the end, Like Me suggests, 24-hour connection does not mean we're all connected.

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