.Step Right Up: See ‘The Influencer’ and laugh your fool head off … if you dare

At first glance, Meghan Weinstein’s sudsy comedy, The Influencer, seems to be standard-issue youth-market date-night fare, the one about the twenty-something woman who’s trying way too hard, and what happens when she overextends herself. However Weinstein, a production designer turned writer-director from Canada but now based in Los Angeles, is perfectly capable of juggling more than one line of attack, as it were, in the story of Abbie Rose.

Abbie is a frantic, gabby, insistent, shrill, corpulent young Angeleno whose every waking minute is spent online, loudly touting a line of cosmetics from a company called Nutrocon. Nothing especially wrong with that. Social-media outlets are filled with often-bizarre pitches for every product that might conceivably appeal to the sort of person who would automatically believe in someone like Abbie—everything from apparel and vacations to miracle health and beauty preparations to shiny plastic thingies for the home. She’s an energetic barker in a carnival of frivolity, and is evidently well rewarded for her efforts—and, of course, for the 96 billion, give or take a few, sets of eyes following her wherever Abbie plants her platform-wedged feet. It’s a living.

There’s a problem with Nutrocon. The company has grown filthy rich from its tubes of goo, but also by taking over other companies. There are accusations of polluting, sexual harassment and animal cruelty in testing. This doesn’t faze Abbie in the slightest. Her show, LA Love with Abbie Rose, lights up the ether-sphere nonstop, and she’s currently preparing to launch a series of Nutrocon videos for her anxious public. Meanwhile, Abbie and her equally branché friends snort lines of powder and drink frou-frou cocktails at a club, to blow off the stress of the marketplace.

There’s also something a bit sketchy about Abbie’s business operation. Her cleverly named office underlings—Two (Janeva Zentz), Three (Shantell Yasmine Abeydeera) and Four (Victoria Danielle Wells)—have been muttering not-so-veiled threats at their workstations. They want to be paid for their labor, and don’t seem cheered up by Abbie’s assurances that she’s working on a re-org. Abbie is a horrible boss, casually berating her slaves while assiduously fine-tuning her brand. As the action opens, a new, unpaid intern called Trendygirl99 (Thea Cantos) is coming aboard and asking a few too many questions.

As a gumdrop of social commentary in a bright glossy wrapper, The Influencer represents the hardening of the mainstream comedy of manners. Oh, those zany millennials, gleefully galloping across the deteriorating landscape in search of baubles, gimcracks and geegaws. The efforts of Abby and her coterie are not sustainable. But they’re more than ridiculous enough to cause nervous laughter. By the time the tale turns violent, we’re quite ready to accept the quid pro quo: What goes around comes around.

Actor Kasia Szarek, a former casting director—mostly short videos—plays Abbie the only way she could possibly be played, as a clown riding for a fall. We might be tempted to compare her antics to those of actual, real-life influencers, but in the interest of human relations we’re probably better off taking the portrayal at face value and laughing our fool heads off. Cautious kudos also go out to actor Cantos, as the mastermind in the guise of a naïf. 

In the third quarter, after Abbie’s altered-makeup “giveaways” begin—they cause skin irritations—and the scenario veers into stock-fraud subterfuge, kidnapping, hacked content, nude-photo slut-shaming blackmail and ad-biz hardball, we wake up and find ourselves dealing with what might as well be an ingratiating sequel to The Bling Ring. Filmmaker Weinstein’s amusingly etched portrait of the times may move slowly at first, but the careful scene-setting leads to a breathless toboggan run down the slippery slope of 21st-century pop culture and crass commerce. No one is spared. Everyone is guilty. The very thing that makes us rich makes us poor. Who would have it any other way?

Now streaming and on DVD.
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