Sundance 2019: ‘Jawline’ Review

If you’ve got a dream, you’ve got to chase it. Be yourself, love yourself.

Says the young Austyn Tester as he concludes his broadcasting sessions in his thick Tennessee accent. The aspiring social media influencer, and many boys like him, spend countless hours in front of a built-in webcam delivering overly positive, pseudo-motivational speeches. Director Liza Mandelup depicts these young boys, whose identical quiffs, heavy with products, tilt their heads permanently to the side as if they all suffer from the same cervical condition, as practically a new generation of evangelic priests preaching to a choir of starstruck pre-adolescent teens.

Taking the express train to fame without exhibiting an ounce of actual talent fashions these young stars into malleable individuals and marketable products – manipulated by agents who are filling up bank accounts while fueling young men’s illusions. Their gullibility is as big as the stars in their eyes.

The dream-like pace and ethereal synthesizers create a sense of eeriness that expresses their naivety beautifully. One could almost see fairy dust trickling down from the clouds where our young entrepreneurs are dreaming big. Swaying between their makeshift bedroom-studios and the meet-and-greet rallies attracting hundreds of girls, we see the ubiquitous blue screens illuminate their young faces as if they were tiny treasure chests.

The heavily contrasted images are religiously disposed of all superfluous visual elements. Having dabbled in advertising (Vogue and Channel) and made shorts for the online magazine i-D, Mandelup had already adopted a visual style that fits the content of Jawline as a glove. Her collaboration with cinematographer Noah Collier is a breath of fresh air at the documentary sections of the festival where utter despair seemed to have settled for good. As keen observers, they make creative formal choices where the umpteenth uninspired (and uninspiring) talking heads doc would have mashed together archival footage and dull stock images. Documentaries as Untouchable, premiering at the festival as well, seem to exist solely to remind us what all film school lecturers tell their students during orientation-week: a relevant subject is just not enough.

Of the hurdle of hysterical girls, several explain that they’re being bullied at school. They see the boys as their friends or brothers and find in them shelter from their own insecurities. But before you can even acknowledge the positive side of the phenomenon, you’re jolted back to the absurdity of it all. Mandelup discreetly sprinkles moments of reflection throughout the film. At the meet and greet, girls with candy-colored lips hold up self-made ‘notice me’ signs. In Tennessee, Austyn’s home is invaded with kittens. They seem to pop up in every shot, essentially becoming a comparative scale for the success of viral content. Finally, Mandelup drops the suggestion of a master puppeteer behind the whole commercially motivated masquerade when she briefly shows Austyn’s shark-like agent being reprimanded over the phone for a lack of online presence. “It’s depressing” was the very short conclusion of my neighbor after the Jawline screening. He’s not entirely wrong, but I’d qualify it, at least, as pleasurable depression.

★★★★


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