Mainstream, the newest film from director Gia Coppola (granddaughter of legendary director, Francis Ford Coppola) is a comedy-drama film exploring the rapidly evolving world of social media fame, and the line many people cross to achieve it.
The film stars Oscar nominee Andrew Garfield as Link who becomes better known to the world as “No one special,” his Youtube alter-ego. He is discovered by Frankie (Stranger Things' Maya Hawke) one day after she secretly records him going on a public rant about people ignoring art in a shopping center.
Drawn to the charisma of this unusual man, Frankie and her friend Jake (Nat Wolff) team up with Link to break big in the world of self-made stars on the internet. However, they soon realize that Link might not be who they thought he was, forcing them to reconsider how they handle their new found success.
What director and writer Gia Coppola sets out to do is rather interesting. The world of Youtube culture and influencers is constantly changing. It’s a new internet frontier that is rapidly evolving, and no doubt evolved even during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, anyone viewing this culture knows it has a dark side.
A simple Youtube search of “I messed up” or “Taking accountability” will no doubt give you hundreds of Youtubers giving their apologies for various scandals. Shane Dawson, Logan Paul and Jeffree Star are examples of people in Youtube culture who have routinely gotten into controversy with their internet fame. Yet, those who saw them in their beginnings know that they didn’t start out controversial. In many cases their drive to maintain that fame is what led them to poor choices.
This is a theme commonly explored in film and television: how far will they go to keep their fame? What makes Mainstream stand out from the pack is how Coppola walks the line between someone's obsession with fame, and our obsession as viewers with their spiraling. As the film progresses, Link doesn’t hesitate to be controversial--it doesn’t phase him. It does, however, phase Frankie and Jake, and forces them to ponder whether to follow Link down his path or step away.
What is interesting about Coppola’s approach is how she doesn’t make a firm statement as to whether controversy sinks Link or not. Much like the three aforementioned Youtubers (among several other examples), just when you think you’re done hearing those names, suddenly they are back with new videos that have thousands of views. If controversy didn’t sink them, why would it sink Link?
The biggest highlight of the film is easily the performance of Andrew Garfield. In his days since hanging up his Spiderman suit, Garfield has routinely churned out great performances, and Mainstream is no exception. He proves that he is willing to try anything and go anywhere in a character. Garfield delivers an unhinged yet grounded performance, a line few actors walk successfully.
Mainstream does have some rough patches. The film doesn’t give us much time to have a strong feeling about anyone other than Link, leaving Maya Hawke and Nat Wolff’s characters thin and underdeveloped.
The film also rushes some of its key sequences. As soon as the team has achieved top tier success, they are down again struggling to find the success they just found. The beginning and the middle both feel as though they suffered scene cuts that would’ve developed them better. One does have to wonder if a longer director’s cut is somewhere in Gia Coppola’s possession, and if that version fixes its most glaring issues.
Overall, while Mainstream doesn’t quite live up to its interesting premise, it is interesting to see director Gia Coppola and star Andrew Garfield take such a huge swing here. The film may not have been a home run, but Garfield and Coppola both display they have the goods to tackle anything.