UK Release Date: 9th February 2018
Runtime: 106 minutes
Director: Scott Speer
Writer: Jason Filardi
Starring: Ross Lynch, Olivia Holt, Harvey Guillen, John Michael Higgins, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Rob Riggle, Famke Janssen, Courtney Eaton
Synopsis: A teen struggling at a new school finds himself catapulted to the top of the social food chain when a new phone app gives him everything he could possibly wish for.
Social media is such an enormous part of the modern world that cinema inevitably has to reflect its potential and danger. The horror genre has embraced surprisingly competent chillers like Unfriended and Friend Request, while the bleak visions of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror have become popular all over the world through Netflix. This shift towards tech is now hitting the teen comedy with Status Update, which is a shockingly unimaginative and hideously wooden movie with aspirations of becoming Mean Girls for the Instagram generation.
It’s one of the many high school films that asks the audience to believe a ludicrously attractive, charismatic character would be unpopular in a school environment. This time, it’s surfer dude Kyle (Ross Lynch), who is ostracised at his new school when his mother (Wendi McLendon-Covey) moves the family from California to Connecticut after separating from Kyle’s carefree, irresponsible father (Rob Riggle). Kyle immediately takes a fancy to choir girl Dani (Olivia Holt), but is forced to befriend gamer nerd Lonnie (Harvey Guillen) when he falls foul of the ‘popular’ hockey players who dominate the social food chain.
This setup seems bleak for Kyle, who is portrayed with a remarkable wide-eyed woodenness by Disney Channel alum Lynch. He’s the sort of guy who would be a believable lead in the late nineties or early noughties, with a phone contacts list including ‘Dom Da Bomb’ and a lament that he would have to start a new school with “no surf, no dad and no car”. Lonnie is equally caricatured, chatting about his lack of ankle strength, the hours he has clocked up on World of Warcraft and how a girl once kicked him “in the eggplant emoji”. They’re bland characters and spending time in their presence is exhausting.
The plot kicks into gear when Kyle’s phone gets broken and he visits a repair kiosk in a shopping mall, presided over by a bearded hippie (Instagram star The Fat Jew, trying way too hard). The hippie hands him a phone containing an app called ‘Universe’, which will make any status update he posts come true. Naturally, rather than solving world hunger or encouraging the Trump administration to consider introducing universal healthcare, Kyle uses this app to create a Bruno Mars song-and-dance number to woo Dani, turn himself into a hockey ace and push himself into the orbit of Queen Bee Charlotte (Courtney Eaton).
Everything about Status Update feels false and manufactured, which perhaps gives it an entirely accidental wave of social commentary. There’s such scope for the movie to be a critique of social media personas not reflecting who people truly are, but writer Jason Filardi (17 Again) gets too caught up in going for the kind of non-sequiturs that require a writer as talented as Tina Fey to judge correctly. The film goes further in its commitment to reminding its audience of better teen movies by casting John Michael Higgins in a role that’s essentially a watered-down take on his acerbic commentator from Pitch Perfect.
Status Update, in that sense, is a film so incompetent that it makes you long to be watching the films from which it takes its influence. The narrative roadblocks of the premise are so huge and obvious they are visible to blind people on the Moon at least 15 minutes before they become apparent to the characters. There’s the prospect of a fun idea lurking at the heart of the film, but its televisual execution and over-egged script combine to create a movie that doesn’t deserve to even get close to a multiplex.
Pop or Poop?
It makes a valiant attempt to marry the high school movie with the modern social media dystopia, but Status Update is a bubblegum-coloured, bland romance with an unusual fantasy twist. Ross Lynch and Olivia Holt are as wooden as an IKEA living room and there’s no believability to anything that happens.
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