Sundance 2019 – Jawline

I had one main thought while watching Jawline: “Fuck I’m old.” There’s a scene in season 3 of Eastbound & Down that summarized how I felt watching much of Jawline. Kenny Powers bursts into a classroom to break up with somebody and in the process ends up giving a chastising speech to the college students. He proclaims “The shit ya’ll are doing, the fucking Facebook shit, the internets, the fucking dvds – that’s all bullshit. Your shit isn’t real.” I’ve included the clip below so you can behold the amazing scene. Your shit isn’t real, is what I wanted to scream at the youths. But that says more about me and how old I feel than it does about them I suppose. Director Liza Mandelup has stumbled upon a goldmine, and created a magnificent documentary that has the feel of a definitive text about social media star/influencer culture while also being an engrossing tale of the American Dream.

Austyn Tester is a 16-year-old boy living in Tennessee who has thousands of followers on social media due to his good looks and his positivity. He dreams of becoming a true social media star to break out of poverty and leave the monotony of his town of Kingsport behind.

Mandelup shoots the film euphorically, both admiring and recoiling from the insanity that proceeds. She never judges her subjects thankfully, even though you might find yourself shaking your head at the subjects plenty of times, she’s just fascinated by them. She knows she has a great tale on her hands, and just films it for all the comedy, drama and socio-economic implications it has.

It is a bit ridiculous how crazy people go for these kids. I mean these kids go on tours all off of making videos and live broadcasting. And listen, I don’t know if there’s anything here, but why do all the male social media stars have the same haircut that is pictured above? Who did this? And why? You want to reach through the screen, grab these kids, shake the poisonous shit out of them and ask them “WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU???” But at the same time, there’s a relatability underneath it all with the pursuit of the American Dream. Being famous on the internet is just what that is now. I don’t understand the culture behind it, but that doesn’t matter, it’s just a matter of fact now. This is what the American Dream means now, whether you like it or not.

Mandelup had tremendous foresight throughout this film to know where to put the cameras to capture some fantastic, biting shots. A phone is always present and recording, no matter what the interaction is. Life isn’t lived if it’s not streamed. Pics or it didn’t happen. Small preteen girls scream like The Beatles just showed up. I wish I would have seen it twice before writing about it, because there were so many profound and incredible lines spoken throughout this thing encompassing the American Dream and what it means to be famous. I need to start writing shit down.

Mandelup brilliantly contrasts Austyn’s tale with those who are already established in the social media industry. A social media “talent manager” runs an expensive house full of hot boys that record videos and broadcast each day, and there are some hilarious scenes of the manager trying to get these boys to record small videos and them not wanting to do it at all like they’re being asked to do heavy lifting – one guy complaining that he needs a salad before he can record a quick video had me dying. These kids have the life – they live in a nice house, have hundreds of thousands of followers and get to shop at the nicest stores – and all they have to do is post about it. Through showing this side of the industry, Mandelup shows that there is a class discrepancy at work in becoming a social media star. Stardom is only there for those who can afford it. People like Austyn will always be left out.

This doesn’t have to happen for every documentary to be good, but one thing that always sticks out to me about great ones, is that in the back of your mind you’re just considering how lucky these filmmakers were to stumble across this story and be there to witness it. It just takes all these narrative turns you couldn’t have written. There’s an element of luck to it all, and some of that pertains to what makes Jawline so striking. You’re just aware of how much circumstances had to align for us to even be watching this. I feel like I’m just not doing this film justice in capturing how truly magnificent of a work it is. Jawline seemingly captures all the elements of social media stardom, both macro and micro, and puts it all into this personal quest for the American Dream. It’s truly incredible, and I hope this gets a great release.

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