In his critique of Black Mirror, when it comes to stories skewering our addiction to social media, writer Dallery Mallory Ortberg seems to have said it best: “what if phones but too much.”
I tend to roll my eyes at a lot of “social media is bad” shorts (they are essentially their own sub-genre at this point). I mean…I get it…constantly viewing a never-ending stream of curated representations of people’s lives, all while seeking out the fleeting dopamine hit of a “like” (a currency that holds no actual value) can’t be good for our mental health. Yet, here we all are— glued to our screens, striving for nirvana via the perfect selfie or pithy caption…
In director Matt Pittroff’s Social Mediation, we find ourselves in a sterile corporate legal office watching as a couple attempts to divide the “assets” of their social currency. It’s an immediately smirk-inducing high concept that, despite its ostensible ridiculousness, feels oddly grounded. The film smartly plays it straight, straddling the line between elongated comedy sketch and incisive social satire. It seems to posit: what if tech dystopia isn’t so much neon lighting and rainy streets, but rather a banal legal office wherein basic influencers are dividing up their social capital as they would physical assets?
I won’t argue that Social Mediation’s rumination on the narcissism and vapid nature of social media curation is highly original, but, working off a script from writer Jeff Collins, it is very, very clever. And, that cleverness, coupled with sharp writing and good performances, makes for an entertaining contained short. I think the film forces the viewer to reckon with the actual worth of the time we are devoting to these platforms. But, beyond that, I was impressed by the structural flow of what is, on the surface, a very simple bottle film. Films predicated on high concepts often tend to run out of steam the more they riff on the central joke, but Mediation gets stronger as it goes. There’s a moment towards the end where you think it’s heading somewhere rote—a cheesy sidebar wherein the two protagonists start reminiscing about the “real” things they shared with one another. But, smartly, the film pulls the rug out of this tangent, ending with an acidic conclusion that not only solidifies the vapidness of its central players but exposes it from the mediators as well. After all, anything for the ‘gram!
Pittroff and Collins come from the world of advertising and that shows in the film’s polished sheen. The simple yet precise shooting style (lots of locked-down coverage) allowed the team to shoot a whopping 14 pages of dialogue in a single shooting day! No wonder the actors look exhausted by the conclusion.
Beyond their ad work, Pittroff and Collins are currently gearing up to shoot another short in the Summer of 2021.