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Written by Michelle Moriarity   
Tuesday, 27 November 2007

LOL Benten Films

There's a reason scholars of digital culture call it "post-human." Media and technology are slowly usurping interpersonal connection, eroding the verbal and tactile call-and-response of human interaction until it is reduced to the barest necessity � a threshold that is still being continually challenged.

In Joe Swanberg's LOL three 20-something guys interchangeable in their denseness and futility moan about their lives � while the women in their lives cast about uncertainly in their periphery. The guys talk, and talk, and talk, on their cell phones and via text. Two dialogue tracks emerge: There are the cell-phone conversations, mundane and pointless. (Think of the people who hit speed-dial the moment the captain turns off the seat-belt sign and whine: "Heeeeyy. Whatcha doin'?") Then there is the body language and verbal cues of those around them, principally the women who are continually spurned in favor of porn and text messaging. They, at least, aren't welded to their computers. But they aren't happy to be playing second fiddle to the guys' Motorazr 2s.

The intersection of technology and humanity is nothing new in American film. Most notably, Steven Soderbergh's arresting portrait of the impotent voyeur in sex, lies and videotape brings to the fore the reductive, distancing force of technology and offers salvation through the destruction of the protagonist's tape collection and the love of a neurotic but pliant woman. In LOL there is no salvation and little hope for our trio whose few social skills have been sucked dry by the ether. Even the musician Alex's (Kevin Brewersdorf) project � collecting video of people making random noises to be mixed into an a capella musical composition � forsakes individuality. Voices that are idiosyncratic-- and awkward in the case of the Walter, played charmingly by Tipper Newton-- are cut, manipulated and reduced to blurps of quasi-electronica.

The rawness of LOL would be appealing if it wasn't so boring. The conversations are flat and expressionless, and the characters inspire little empathy. The guys' online activities are exercises in narcissism. Any pathos lies with the girls, whose sad desperation is palpable: Tim (Joe Swanberg) asks girlfriend Ada (Brigid Reagan) if they can wait 20 minutes to have sex while he does some work online. "Are you serious?" she exclaims. Chris (C. Mason Wells) tries to persuade long-distance girlfriend Greta (Greta Gerwig) to have phone sex: "I know you're not here. That's the whole point. That's why I want it. Like, I wouldn't want it if you were here." (The appropriate expression here isn't LOL, but WTF?)

Swanberg's vision rings true: that preoccupation with our digital lives can render flaccid our realities. But the lines are too sharply drawn between the sensibilities of men and those of women, between technology and reality. Whether or not LOL is intended as satire, it offers no new insight into the human condition, only a dismal forecast for the future of human intercourse as ever more gadgets and technologies flood the market and our lives.

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Michelle Moriarity
About the author:
Staff Writer. Michelle Moriarity is a copy editor, reluctant teacher and sometimes writer. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism and a master's in English. A reformed Midwesterner, she lives in North Carolina and has a collection of Patty Hearst memorabilia that is growing almost daily. She has interviewed the founder of the Geek Squad, the inventor of Bodyperks fake nipples, Jared the Subway Guy and experts on U.S.-Cuba policy. Undergraduate courses on 1950s B-movies, pornography and telefilms introduced her to the beauty of subversive cinema, and she hasn't looked back.
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