Judge Brett Cullum expected to frag some Skaarj, but instead found this to be a parody of reality TV.
They never saw it coming.
Unreal is a faux reality show which hopes to skewer reality television by showing us a dating show falling apart at the seams. It's not quite as innovative as the much slicker Series 7: The Contenders, but it's an interesting entry in the fake documentary genre. It's a low budget, well-acted spoof that doesn't have too many romantic or comedic moments, but it will make you think about what goes in to "reality." It's worth a look if you're a fan of the genre, and really worth a look if you hate those dating shows with a passion.
It starts off as a straightforward reality show following three couples as they break up and enter the New York City dating scene once again. The twist is each of the "exes" has signed on to let cameras follow their every move as they try to find romance after a painful split. At first the subjects seem uncomfortable as a crew tails them to singles bars, their work, and into their small cramped NYC apartments. But soon each of them seems to start having incredible luck with being single again. They each start meeting attractive, eligible people who seem too good to be true. Thank goodness the cameras are there to capture Lady Luck smiling on these heartbroken saps, who really just want to find real love. Problem is the reality show isn't quite playing fair with them. Will the subjects find out the awful truth that good television and reality are not synonymous? Will their suspicions rise just enough to realize none of this is real?
Unreal had me going at first. The box never mentions this is a fake program, and there is little to show you it's not on the up and up. I quickly realized the names in the show were not the same as the names on the box credits, and there was something about a director who also got a writing credit. Unfortunately if you read this far in to the review you'll know before you see it that this is all fake. But no matter, since halfway through the movie some twists happen that reveal this could never happen on the air. It's a fun idea to have the participants of a reality show suddenly realize how they are being manipulated, and I wish they had gone farther with it. I always wanted someone on one of these shows to be exposed as not being exactly who they were—like The Bachelor is really gay, or the new Apprentice has never held down an actual job in their life. That doesn't quite happen in Unreal, but they do almost get there with some of the reveals.
The problem with the movie is it's so safe, a common problem with satire. The reactions feel all too real, and the characters stay grounded in reality. This movie sorta should have been called Too Real. It never made me laugh because it all felt so true, and that's where it misses the boat to be a surprising comedy. Though a couple of the subjects do reveal a violent streak, nobody whips out a gun or takes the crew hostage or even breaks anything. Maybe people on camera are afraid to freak out, but then we have actual reality shows with Anna Nicole and Fear Factor where we enter a ludicrous level of surreality that surpasses this film easily. A touch of that would have been nice. As it is what we get is a strong ensemble finding the truth in a false situation. Interesting? Yes. Rewatchable and fascinating? No. I'd say this one is a rental for when you need something to mock television.
LifeSize Entertainment certainly loaded the disc up with extras. Deleted scenes, gaffes, and a director's commentary all crop up. The outtakes are pretty funny, but nothing crucial to anything other than more character development or amusing scenes of a cameraman getting whacked by a branch or passerby. The commentary includes the director, a couple of actors, and a gaggle of producers. It's talky and full of way too much self-congratulatory love to seriously analyze what they were doing. The transfer looks like a reality television program—fullscreen, grainy, and of varying film quality. The audio track is a TV stereo mix that is fine considering it's only delivering dialogue and music. LifeSize Entertainment's packaging of the small indie feature is admirable, and if you enjoy Unreal then it's an engaging purchase or a fun few day rental.
Unreal is a nicely done look at reality television, and it makes us see how silly it all is. The acting is great and it all feels authentic, but in the end I found myself longing for something a little more out there. When a satire is safe it seems to fall short, because it's not taking something real to its illogical extreme. Odd that I'm accusing a reality show movie of being too real for its own good, but that's what Unreal does. It's worth a look, but not a long one. It needs a little more mocking to be a good mockumentary.
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