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Doin’ it for the Gram - ‘Infamous’

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What does it mean to be famous?

We live in a world in which there have never been more paths to finding some degree of fame. There are the traditional arenas – entertainment, athletics, politics and the like – but the advent of the internet and social media has led to a whole different kind of fame, a fame built around likes and shares and the dopamine rush that comes with the clicks that, in some small way, validate our presence.

And there will always be those for whom infamy is just as good.

“Infamous,” written and directed by Joshua Caldwell, takes a look at the dark potential of this thirst for fame. It’s the story of a young couple who find online notoriety thanks to a video record of their criminal exploits across the South. It also serves as a look at the corrupting power of fame, with the pair getting in over their heads; they go bigger and bigger as the internet audience for their spree grows and grows. After all, you’re only as famous as your last post.

Arielle (Bella Thorne, “Ride”) is tired of her life. She’s living in Florida with her stripper mom (Marisa Coughlan, “Super Troopers 2”) and working a dead-end job as a diner waitress. She’s also obsessed with the idea of becoming someone of note on social media. She wants to be an Instagram star. She wants to be famous.

Arielle’s life takes a turn when she meets Dean (Jake Manley, “Midway”), a troubled young man who has moved to town to stay with his father as part of the terms of his parole. The two quickly fall in love and Arielle reveals her plans to head to Hollywood and become famous (though she hasn’t yet worked out just HOW she will achieve that fame).

When a deadly accident forces the two of them to go on the run, they’re forced to utilize Dean’s illicit skill set to finance their flight. Specifically, armed robbery. When they rob a liquor store, Arielle decides to film their crime and post the video on a newly-created social media account. The video goes viral and the follower count quickly climbs.

Despite Dean’s misgivings, Arielle continues to film and post videos as the duo commits robbery after robbery. However, Arielle’s rudimentary efforts at concealing their identities prove insufficient, putting their names and faces in the news. They’re left with little choice but to try and put together one big, final score in an effort to finance a trip into hiding – but can Arielle resist the pull of the social media spotlight?

It’s pretty clear that “Infamous” seeks to position itself as a 21st century riff on “Bonnie and Clyde.” The notion of crime as a means to an end, a way to achieve fame (or at least notoriety), plays fairly well in an age of online self-obsession and self-aggrandizement. Thematically, the concept works, though the film doesn’t dig into it quite as deeply as it might have, instead largely skimming along the surface.

“Infamous” works best when it is focusing on the dynamic between its two leads. The rapidity of their courtship evokes a trashball “Romeo and Juliet” vibe – two households, both alike in hillbilly/in the Redneck Riviera, where we lay our scene – that feels very much of a piece with its setting. It’s the epitome of a Florida Man/Florida Woman pairing, and that energy really works.

As a commentary on the nature of fame, it’s less effective. While the pieces are certainly there, they don’t always fit together properly. There are some fundamental questions left unanswered – while the how of Arielle’s fame quest is never really addressed, the real absence is the why. Digging into that could have opened up a wider conversation on fame and its impact – both positive and negative – on those who experience it. Instead, things are mostly left vague, with a handful of references to follower numbers, a few quick scrolls through the comments and a couple of IRL encounters with “fans;” it’s not nothing, but a little more cohesion on that end could have gone a long way.

Thorne and Manley work well together, embodying the desperation that comes with feeling trapped by circumstance; they FEEL like the sort of unsavory couple who could go off the rails in such a brutal and public way. She occasionally goes a little too far over the top and he occasionally winds up too far under, but for the most part, the proper balance is struck. The supporting cast features a couple of decent turns – Coughlan is good in a couple of scenes, while Amber Riley has a nice stretch as someone briefly swept up into the Arielle/Dean maelstrom – but this movie belongs to its leads.

Look, I acknowledge that I am not the target audience for “Infamous.” I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that it resonates far more fully with a younger demographic. Hell, I don’t even use Instagram. But while the movie has its flaws, I did like it more than I anticipated. And I admire the attempt to use this sort of lurid teen trashiness to speak to something larger, even if that attempt isn’t wholly successful.

“Infamous” is neither a great movie nor a complete misfire. It’s an uneven endeavor, yes, but a reasonably entertaining one. All in all, a decent effort; a fairly interesting (albeit mostly surface-level) try at calculating the price of fame.

[3 out of 5]

Last modified on Saturday, 13 June 2020 11:19


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