SXSW 2020: Selfie (2020) - Reviewed

Like it or not, we are inescapably intertwined with digital technology.  Whether it’s using social media to stay in touch with friends or perusing an online store for the best deals, it’s impossible not to be ensnared by its influence.  Deemed a harbinger of doom to some and a necessary tool for advancement to others, it’s safe to say that strong feelings surround this topic.  That’s why the 2020 SXSW film Selfie works so well: we see the good, the bad, and the ugly surrounding this 21st Century necessity in a candid, comprehensive, and oftentimes scathing manner.  

This French film is comprised of a series of five vignettes with overlapping characters and storylines, blended together in a fast-paced ballet of everyday people wallowing in an array of digital woes.  We see twenty-somethings obsess over their dating app scores, an uptight technophobe teacher’s heart melt for a celebrity via Twitter, and an entire wedding on a remote island nearly turn to chaos from a data breach.  Ordinary lives end up permanently altered by the effects of the technological treats they choose to indulge in, and it rarely ends up going well for any of these characters.  They are “punished” for their reliance on the Internet, like wicked Brothers Grimm tales for the digital era. 

What is exceptional about Selfie is its particular brand of humor when delving into its social commentary.  While the film has often been compared to Black Mirror (and at least one of the storylines is highly reminiscent of a specific episode), the tone is slightly different for the most part, albeit equally astute.  Its comedy is surprisingly understated and basks in schadenfreude, with dialogue that cuts like a knife and unexpected callbacks abound.  The film opens with a couple whose videos go viral from documenting the recovery of their sick child, and they quip that a different child suffering from leukemia would “have a hard time with SEO.”  We are later introduced to another character that buys every recommendation the Internet sends him, saying “they know better than me what I want,” treating his blind devotion almost like a religion as he tries to find deeper meanings to the seemingly random products he is sent.  We relish in their follies as their compulsions take them deeper down the rabbit holes they’ve made for themselves, and it’s downright hilarious.  


The editing of this film is remarkably tight, which helps the momentum of the comedy nicely. The dispersion of the various storylines peppered throughout the film is perfectly balanced, and the pacing is fast and purposeful.  Look away for more than a second, and you might have missed something that will come into play.  Combined with clever ways to display the interfaces of the characters’ apps on the screen to convey digital information and conversations without having to cut to their actual devices, Selfie is told in the most effective way possible: it acknowledges the short attention spans and need for sensory overload with the modern audience.

The performances in Selfie are equally spot on.  The ensemble cast is completely dedicated to the particular flavor of obsession they embody and consistently hits the nail on the head.  Moreover, the directors responsible for this anthology understand the source material well, and they make even the most absurd premise seem somehow relatable.  We know many of these characters in our everyday lives, and maybe to a lesser extent, they are sometimes us.  Even more impressive is the fact that, despite this being a series of vignettes comprised of so many different actors and directors, they feel like an entirely cohesive entity, unlike many anthologies where each storyline feels tonally and stylistically different.           

During one scene in the film, a character says, “Is that all that we are?  A bunch of data?”  After watching Selfie, audiences might be inclined to answer “yes.”  We are the extra “like” on a social media post, the rating a customer gives us, the extra follower needed to make a YouTube video go viral—we feed the algorithm that feeds us back.  It shows us we are small yet simultaneously part of the grander scheme for this manmade creation that is sometimes more a hindrance than help.  The film is a bleak yet insightful exploration of all that is wrong with humanity in a society that has come to rely on the Internet for not just entertainment, but survival. Scathing, intelligent, and playful, Selfie is the dark comedy we need right now, and frankly also the one we deserve.

--Andrea Riley