Judge Michael Nazarewycz is reaching for the "unfriend" button.
"50 cities, 50 friends: Queen of Reality-TV, Katherine Brooks puts a face to Facebook."
I have three social circles on Facebook: friends and family (the closest), past acquaintances (old coworkers and older classmates), and the film community. The film community consists of bloggers, Oscar-ologists, professional critics, an award-winning director, as well as other cinephiles; none of whom I have ever met. I know about their lives (to varying degrees), I admire their work, and I respect their opinions. But unless they look EXACTLY like their profile pictures, I wouldn't know one from another. Thus my interest in Face 2 Face, a documentary that promises a tale of one person from the film community connecting with 50 people that she, like me, is Facebook "friends" with but doesn't really know.
Facts of the Case
After realizing that none of her 5,000 Facebook friends came to visit her while she was recovering from surgery, reality TV (The Osbournes) and indie film (Loving Annabelle) award-winning director Katherine Brooks decides to take it to the people. She posts on her Facebook timeline that she will visit the first 50 friends who respond to her status, and that she will make a documentary film about the experience.
Brooks gets her 1% response rate and sets out on a coast-to-coast trek that measures 11,467 miles. Yet for all the wear and tear on her car, what will be the toll on her emotions?
Brooks opens with a brief history of herself, which is necessary to understand her motivation for wanting to reach out to others. Her story is mostly sad but includes the highlight of her Dear Emily short film contest win, as well as the lowlight of her depression-fueled attempted overdose. Once she catches us up, Brooks shares her idea for the premise of the film, packs her car, and hits the road. This is where the journey should really start to motor, but instead it careens out of control.
The biggest problem, really, is that Brooks' wheelhouse is reality television. If you've ever watched even one episode of any reality show, you know that choice parts from any length of film can be edited in such a way as to attempt to manipulate the viewer. Brooks does this from beginning to end in several egregious ways.
Of her 50 volunteers, Brooks only lets us get to know six of them. You read that right. In a film touting "50 cities, 50 friends," Brooks only gives us glimpses into the lives of six. With a 107-minute film, I certainly didn't expect full bios on all 50 participants, but I certainly expected no fewer than a dozen solidly documented interactions.
By the end of the film, you know why she went with the six she did: five have incredibly depressing tales. I'm certainly not judging their tribulations, but I am citing reality manipulation and judging Brooks' choice to spotlight only them. As for the sixth participant, that person is not only the last person Brooks visits, that person is also someone from Brooks' past whose so-called random participation in the project—and what are the odds this person is the last on the route mapped by AAA—is patently unbelievable. So much so, in fact, you wonder why Brooks is even Facebook friends with the person. The other 44 folks (and I presume they are all there—I wasn't about to count) are relegated to brief appearances in one of five (I did count those) montages. Again, five montages.
Another point of contention is the absence of a timeline or any sense of the 11,000+ miles traveled. There is never a mention of time passed, and while many of the cities that Brooks visits are mentioned via caption, they are so scattered in presentation, they couldn't possibly be in trip order. If they are, AAA needs its compass checked, because no one should go from NY to MD to CA to LA to FL to CA to MN. It's yet another manipulative device—keeping the viewer disoriented. I expect that from a reality show, not a documentary.
Continuing with that reality manipulation, there is high drama at the end of the second act that Brooks is at the center of, as well as odds-defying and totally unexpected contact from a long-estranged relative who appears while filming is happening.
But Brooks' biggest sin is that under the guise of documenting a journey to meet people, she makes the better part of the film about her own efforts to battle her addictions to cigarettes and pharmaceuticals, except for the Xanax she keeps in a Sucrets box that she constantly reminds us about. This causes her to scream and curse and throw many a fit, all of which looks like nothing more than mugging for the camera. There's even a scene over the closing credits where she squats and pees in an open field. No serious documentarian would print that, even on an outtake reel. This only reinforces Brooks' understanding of reality shock value and her desperate need for attention.
I wonder how many of her 5,000 Facebook friends "liked" that shot?
The 1.77:1 standard def DVD transfer is quite sharp, and the 5.1 Dolby Surround track is clear, but this is less a testament to the disc and more about the work done while filming. This is where Brooks' reality experience shows its one positive strength.
The deleted scenes, which are touted as "30 minutes additional footage" on the DVD case, actually run over 50 minutes. They are a mix of more of Brooks' self-indulgence, coverage of two new friends (one of whom should have made the final cut of the film), and 10 more minutes with the unbelievable last friend. The most maddening part? One of the extras had a title card with the Day # on it.
I did enjoy the slide show, however. It was a four-minute mix of production stills, candids, and posed pictures taken with a variety of cameras. A couple were suitable for framing. Playing over them is the title song.
I would have been more receptive to this film had Brooks' journey morphed from one of finding friends to one of finding self. Instead, Face 2 Face only technically serves as the vehicle it purports to be, and presents Brooks' relationships with most of the friends she meets to be just as superficial as they are be on Facebook.
Instead of gaining personal insight into the power of social media, I got
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