Cam

The first thing my wife said when watching this was ‘there’s a lot of tits in this for being rated 15’. I was thinking the same thing, although I hadn’t noticed the Netflix age rating until she brought it up. Yes, there are quite a lot of tits in Cam, which only seems right given the subject matter. It’s just sleazy and voyeuristic enough without bordering on outright porn in its very lightweight depiction and discussion of the latest sell your sexuality craze.

Viewers in the UK will likely be aware of TV channels such as Babestation. I’m sure they have similar stuff in the US and around the world – late night channels which are little more than women in various states of undress, gyrating around and mimicking sex acts for the viewer. Viewers are encouraged to call in and get one on one time with the girls but if you don’t want to fork over the cash, you can simply watch, presumably with one hand down your gunks. In other words, it’s dumb, exploitative, and ugly; in other words, it’s great. Similar websites exist for the same purposes, if simple porn isn’t interactive enough for you. Admittedly, it’s not a rabbit hole I’ve ever been down but there are plenty of non-porn or softcore versions all over the web that it’s easy to stumble upon – Twitch girl gamers with huge cleavage, girls and guys simply eating or reading in front of the camera for your likes and cash – every possible fetish is catered for and it is a massive business that will seem bewildering to most but is only becoming more commonplace. Taken further – basically every YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram page is set up in the same way, for likes, for attention, for money, clicks, and affirmation. Hell, even this blog. But believe me, the people in this movie look a lot better with their tits out than I do.

So what’s it all about – a scathing satire of this modern societal behaviour? A deep dive into the psyche of the individual and the populace who drive this shift in morality? No, I can’t say that any of those critiques hold true although in the opening moments I assumed this was the way the movie was going to go, wrapped in a story of identity theft and horror. We follow our main protagonist Alice – your typical view of a Millennial who seems to exist almost entirely online. She is a Cam girl, and has her eyes set upon a top 50 spot in her website of choice. There is a funny moment later on when we see just how many accounts there are – in the tens of thousands – which gives a giggle concerning the prevalence of the phenomena. It seems like in order to reach the hallowed Top 50, you need to perform more and more extreme acts – show more skin, a little bit of S&M, dressing up to satisfy your flighty viewers’ whims. Alice is shown to be manipulating it all for her own gains – she is paid in tokens which translate to hard cash – and doesn’t balk at spending five grand on a new sofa. She’s doing alright, but starts to get more fame and attention due to her stunts regarding violence. One event in particular seems to get her a lot of notice and as she laps up her new found infamy her online and offline life begin to merge and collapse.

There’s another Alice out there – breaking Alice’s own rules of things she will never do. This Alice has her face, her voice, but is willing to do those things Alice will not – and she starts to take Alice’s viewers away. Soon Alice is blocked from her account. Soon she begins seeing her online fans on the street, in her local stores. Soon she is the one being manipulated and she becomes the viewer, logging in and forcing the new Alice, paying the new Alice into certain acts in the hope of finding out what the hell is going on. It’s an interesting place to start for a story, but one which deserves a better pay off. It’s listed as a horror movie, but it’s absolutely more of a thriller – there is little horror to be found and any thrills and drama come out of mystery rather than fear or tension. It’s all a bit silly though it does appear to take itself seriously. The writers and director have a good grasp of the material, from the perspective of people who exist in this world, and while Alice herself is an interesting enough character played with spark by Madeline Brewer, the surrounding characters are mostly surface and irrelevant, and any deeper meaning beyond ‘wouldn’t this be spooky if it happened to you’ is never unwrapped. We do get some moments between Alice and tech people, between Alice and the Police, and between Alice and other Cam girls which uncover some of the trials and dangers and pressure the people living in this world must go through, but these came across as basic laughs more than outright satire.

The film is around 90 minutes long so it doesn’t wear out its welcome at any point. I know my wife had mostly given up caring by the end while I was still interested enough to see how it all panned out and if there would be any late twists. Once it becomes a procedural drama with Alice putting on her Detective cap and investigating any potential leads, the film loses a little of its spark. I was happy to learn about the people in front of and behind the camera ensuring this business continues to exist and evolve – it’s absolutely an interesting world and I’d like to have learned more about the people behind the curtain or the people pulling the strings. I’m torn between thinking the film doesn’t go far (or at all) enough with its horror, or whether it should have removed any horror elements completely. I think the latter would have made a better film, but the former would have become a very silly horror albeit set in a unique world. It’s a shame then that we don’t delve more into the exploitative aspects, the satire, and the realism as such an existence is ripe for peeling back and peering inside.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Cam!

Dumplin’

Watching this, it definitely felt like a Young Adult adaptation. It wasn’t until after I finished watching that I checked online and saw that yes, it was in fact based on a YA book. That’s not always a bad thing, and for the purposes of this review it’s little more than a lazy way to frame this introduction, so joke’s on you.

Dumplin’  is the coming of age story of a teenage girl who lost her father at an early age (I think… it wasn’t really mentioned much) and was mostly raised by her Dolly Parton obsessed aunt. Her mother, a former local beauty queen was too busy organizing beauty pageants to look after her, beyond so embarrassingly calling her Dumplin. She is apparently comfortable with being overweight, is in school, has a fast-food job, and has a ludicrously pretty, equally Dolly obsessed best friend. When her Aunt dies, she looks through a box of her old things and finds that in her youth had wanted to entire a local pageant but chickened out. To honour her memory, Dumplin’ decides to enter one of the shows, but unexpectedly her best friend and a couple of outcasts join her in her journey.

Knowing now that the film was directed by Anne Fletcher – a dancer and choreographer – it makes more sense that it included numerous dance scenes, a lot of music, and lacked a unique style. The film is highly comparable to both Ladybird and Little Miss Sunshine, but while those films had a vision framed by the director, Dumplin’ eschews this in favour of clever casting and a Netflix style. Jennifer Aniston is the mum, who really only shows up in the second half of the movie, while Danielle Macdonald and Odeya Rush are Willowdean ‘Dumplin’ and best friend Ellen. If you ever wanted to see Michael from Lost dancing in drag or Bex Taylor-Klaus wearing unnecessary, hilarious, and ridiculous prosthetic teeth, then this is the film for you. The film takes some slightly odd steps – while Willowdean’s falling out with Ellen is the exact conflict you get in every one of these films, it leads to Willowdean doubting herself and going in a mini cycle of destruction which the film completely fails to sell or give the character any reason to do so. One minute everything is wonderful, and the next she’s in crisis mode for zero reason. The performances are all fine – Aniston doesn’t do a great job with the accent while love interest Bo looks about twenty years older than Willowdean.

There are many reasons why I shouldn’t like this – it’s kind of a romantic comedy, it is filled with Country music (a genre I abhor), and it is set in the world of beauty pageants – something so foreign to anyone outside of the USA that every single one of us thinks it must be a joke. It is a joke though, right? You… you don’t genuinely take these things seriously, right? In Northern Ireland, a talent line up is where you stand facing a wall while a man in a balaclava decides which one of you to knee-cap (shoot in the leg) first, while a beauty pageant is watching the sixteen year olds fall out of the pubs at 1.30 am in Belfast before vomiting onto a rat. Yet somehow I did like it. Well, I watched it at least. It hits precisely every note you expect it to, it ends exactly as you know it will, and it is as by the numbers as any film you’ll ever see. I think the only cliche missed is that no-one in the group of pageant girls is ‘the bad one’ who tries to ruin Willowdean’s plans – everyone is so sweet and kind and helpful, making her aforementioned lapse into self-doubt all the more bewildering. Yet the charming cast carries it through and the occasional gentle laugh stops it from being a generic Hallmark movie. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I enjoyed it more than Ladybird, but it’s essentially the same film – even multiple cast members appear in both – and I probably enjoyed it just as much.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Dumplin!