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Viral Beauty: A movie about Online Fame

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viralthumbLet’s face it: if it doesn’t exist on the internet, it might as well not exist at all. In an age where your best-angle selfie is the new calling card and a hashtag can signal a social movement, our dating and professional lives are so increasingly dependent on the visibility we have on the web that it’s almost impossible to imagine a time in which you couldn’t Google something. It’s not surprising, then, that the collision between digital technology and our daily lives has lead to some pretty interesting filmmaking in the last few years. The last true tech-inspired film was perhaps Unfriended, a sleeper hit that showed that digital screens and horror films actually do make sense together (who would have known?).

And then comes Viral Beauty, a new comedy on the festival circuit about online fame, with nearly half the film taking place online via Skype-like screens, video chats, vlogs, and online gossip tabloids. The story follows a brash overweight millennial, Marsha Day (Casey Killoran, Sex and the City), who becomes an online sensation after posting a controversial dating ad online, which leads to notoriety and endorsement deals from mega companies looking to cash in on her newfound fame. At times, the film feels like a kind of social experiment, featuring actual social media and entertainment stars (Perez Hilton, soundlyawake, Emma Willmann, Dion Yorkie, Michael Rizzi, Stella Rae, Raiden Quinn, Austin and Nicolay), who respond to the protagonist’s online posts, which makes the film all the more meta and strikingly real.

“The story is about the current millennial American Dream: get rich and famous without having to lift a finger,” says first-time director David Tyson Lam, a former Canadian-born actor now working on Wall Street. Written by his sister Elizabeth Lam (also a technologist and filmmaker), the film has a curious ability to be at once funny and disturbing. In one pivotal moment, we are glued to the screen at a “can’t look away from this car crash” video that goes viral, where we see the main character attempt what appears to be an online suicide. It’s disturbing and it’s funny, as is any video that catches fire online, and it’s a reminder that fact is often stranger than fiction.

“The film is about the outrageousness of the web and how a lot of that has to do with wanting attention and validation,” says lead actress Casey Killoran, who gained over 40 pounds for the role. “People do crazy things to become notorious. It’s a practice as old as time.”

The world of Viral Beauty is a hyper reflection of our own social media obsessed culture. Like the web with its diversity, the film’s cast stands out for its diversity in age, gender, and race. Elizabeth Lam, the writer, who was inspired by complex human-tech issues, says, “Creating the world of Viral Beauty was a challenge, especially writing the script with over 100 characters and giving a unique voice to each. It was also important to reflect how we interact with technology, so you’ll see the characters interact over the web in ways that alter their lives irrevocably. But the heart of the film is the journey of Marsha Day, who is fierce and funny.”

Indeed, Marsha is a lead character not often found in film: female, overweight and outspoken. The film also raises body image issues, questions the media-manufactured standards of beauty, and explores cyberbullying with the pervasive trolling web culture. The internet can often be a breeding ground for divisiveness and hate which young people ought to be aware of before interacting with others online – here are some of the ground rules for staying safe online that teens especially may find useful.

With the internet being a forum for self expression and broadcast, we expect to see more intersection of film and digital media. Managing to capture the zeitgeist of our social media obsessed times, Viral Beauty is a comedy that raises deeper questions about fame and beauty, without any easy answers.

The film stars Casey Killoran (Sex and the City), Perez Hilton, Ruibo Qian (Mozart in the Jungle, Jessica Jones, Broad City) and Mark Junek (Smash, The Outs, Blindspot).

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Written by:

Dillon Murphy