After teaming up with a charismatic stranger to make YouTube videos, a young woman uncovers the tribulations of internet stardom.
Mainstream (Gia Coppola, 2020) follows a young woman named Frankie (Maya Hawke), as she unsuccessfully attempts to gain “viral popularity” online. After a video she captured of an eccentric stranger named Link (Andrew Garfield) goes viral, together they recruit Frankie’s co-worker, Jake (Nat Wolff), and post videos of Link under the alias “No One Special”, catapulting them into online fame. The trio launch a live web show hosted by No One Special, but tension swells after Frankie fails to prevent Link from humiliating a contestant named Isabelle (Alexa Demie) during the show, resulting in her suicide.
Coppola employs soft, natural lighting throughout the film to communicate a dreamy Hollywood landscape, coinciding with Frankie’s disillusioned perception of it. This directly juxtaposes the horrors occurring within Link, as he rapidly descends into narcissistic and psychopathic behaviour as a result of his new-found fame. This character development was foreshadowed in the film’s opening sequence, in which Link is introduced wearing a mouse costume – a visual metaphor for Link, whose real name is Alexander Goodrich (a play on words) – masquerading as a disadvantaged orphan while being a wealthy, privileged individual whose parents are alive and well.
If one distances themselves from the consensus among critics that Coppola’s message was “a vain attempt at satire”, Mainstream can be celebrated as a visualisation of the dangers of losing one’s morality and good intentions to fame. The film acts as a window into the fickleness of human nature, emphasising that “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This is epitomised in the film’s concluding shot, which depicts a close-up of Link smiling unsettlingly into the camera, upon receiving praise for refusing to take responsibility for Isabelle’s death during a manic rant on stage. Power-corrupted Frankie, however, lost her morality to her pursuit of stardom, not intervening while Link publicly humiliated Isabelle (knowing it would bolster views). By the film’s end it is impossible to differentiate Link from “No One Special”, the once fictional persona he put on as a spectacle for the videos.
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