Benten Films // 2006 // 81 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Mike MacNeil (Retired) // September 7th, 2007
How wired are you?
We're surrounded by cell phones, laptops, PDAs, digital cameras, and mp3 players. They've been designed to make it easier for us to communicate with each other. There is a danger, though: get too invested in all this gadgetry, and you lose touch with the real, live people around you. That's where LOL comes in.
Alex (Kevin Bewersdorf), Chris (C. Mason Wells), and Tim (Joe Swanberg) are about as tech-savvy as anyone else in their mid-20's in this day and age. Which is to say, they're pretty darn tech-savvy. E-mail and instant messaging are essential tools for everyday communication. Chris is trying to maintain his long-distance relationship to his girlfriend via cell phone. Tim gets work done on his laptop at his girlfriend's apartment. Alex is an experimental musician with a fixation on an Internet porn star. Shot in a faux-documentary style, LOL follows the guys around as they struggle to navigate their social landscape.
LOL opens with footage of a girl stripping in an Internet video, intercut with reaction shots of all the men watching from their computers. The sight of all these guys watching the same thing, separately, sets the tone for the rest of the film. It's simultaneously honest, funny, and sad.
In the commentary tracks, director Joe Swanberg reveals that the movie was entirely improvised, which explains the sense of realism. I'm not talking about a few passages of dialogue here, either; entire plot points were made up on the fly. Bewersdorf has the most memorable part as a low-rent musician who lies to an admiring woman (Tipper Newton) about his upcoming "tour." He really just wants to make a road trip to see his favorite Internet porn star, and the things he does to maintain his ruse are alternately hilarious and horrifying. His character is always armed with a camera, and he solicits everyone he knows to make "mouth sounds." He records whatever sounds they feel like making, and splices them together to create some truly bizarre music.
Wells' and Swanbergs' characters are each involved in long-term relationships with their respective girlfriends, and both display their dependence on cell phones and computers to a frightening degree. It's not frightening in the sense that it's outlandish; it's frightening in its accurate portrayal of how people are actually living their lives. When these guys were kids, they were playing around with Tandy computers and Atari video games. Technology has just gotten more and more prominent as they've grown up, and in a way, it's become more important than the people they supposedly care about.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit that while watching this movie, which clocks in at under 90 minutes, I allowed myself to be interrupted by an incoming text message, and later I actually paused the DVD to answer a call coming in on my cell phone. I defiantly declined to reply to the text message in an attempt to make me feel better about myself. Fact is, LOL is addressing a very real cultural phenomenon. A quick Internet search (D'oh!) brings up sites addressing full-blown addictions to Blackberrys and, uh, the Internet.
Despite the single-minded nature of the movie, it never comes off as preachy or technophobic. Swanberg and company simply set out to portray their subject matter as realistically as possible. They made a conscious decision to flout most of the practices of modern filmmaking. The resulting movie probably won't impress the more impatient viewers out there; plot doesn't really figure into the equation. It's more about observing how the characters live their lives than watching them go from Point A to Point B. For anyone looking for a glimpse into the lives of a few guys trying to balance laptops and love lives, though, look no further than LOL.
The aforementioned commentary tracks both feature Swanberg, Wells and Bewersdorf (when it comes to this gang, the terms "cast" and "crew" are more or less interchangeable). The first is a technical track, and the second one, which includes a few of the other actors, focuses more on the message of the film and the creative process. Swanberg essentially financed the entire movie on his own, utilized friends and acquaintances for cast and crew, and generally seems like a renegade filmmaking hero. He strives for subtlety, rather than assaulting the viewer with awkward expository dialogue. He explains the status of Tim's relationship to Ada (Brigid Reagan) with a simple close-up shot of her bare ring finger. There's something to be said for that kind of economical filmmaking.
The disc also includes "Hissy Fits," a short film featuring a few of the same characters that appear in LOL. There's Tipper Newton's casting interview, which can be skipped, and a series of Bewersdorf-centric extras: extended "Noisehead" videos, which are the completed result of the "mouth sounds" that he collects throughout the movie; additional footage of his off-the-wall music performances, a slideshow of the promotional artwork he designed for LOL, and "Kevin-casts," which document his work on composing the film's score and coming up with said artwork. The Kevin-casts are particularly intriguing because they offer a glimpse into how Bewersdorf was living his life at the time the movie was being put together, and it doesn't seem too far off-base from any of the characters in LOL. He was living in Berlin, but spent almost all his time in his room or taking advantage of the wireless Internet at his friend's apartment. So he's spending all this time on his laptop, but when he's supposed to be recording material for LOL's DVD extras, he can't help but wander over to his window with his digital camera and record the people outside playing soccer and buying cigarettes. There's probably more footage of what went on outside his window than there is of the artistic processes he was working through. I think that fact alone is enough to convince anyone that these guys are not condemning people who get too wrapped up in technology and distanced from humanity; they're trying to figure out how they ended up with those afflictions themselves.
LOL is about as far as you can get from a slickly produced Hollywood blockbuster, but the film's unconventional nature serves it well. Swanberg went into this project with the singular goal of investigating the effects of technology on relationships, and came out with a compelling cautionary tale that we'd all do well to remember.
Review content copyright © 2007 Mike MacNeil; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Benten Films
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 81 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Director Commentary with contributions from Kevin Bewersdorf and C. Mason Wells
* Cast Commentary with Joe Swanberg, C. Mason Wells, Greta Gerwig, and Tipper Newton
* Hissy Fits: A Short Film Made as a Test for LOL
* "Kevin-casts:" Video Podcasts Documenting the Post-Production
* Complete "Noisehead Videos
* Additional Music Performance Footage
* Tipper Newton Casting Interview
* The Artwork of LOL
* Official Site