Robert Mockler’s Like Me is a film that takes a lot of chances. Everything from its stylized aesthetic and unusual narrative to its cinematography choices and inconsistent editing feels very bold, and the results vary as expected. Thankfully, the film works more often than not and often gets by on sheer weirdness alone. But that’s not to say that it doesn’t have other merits, as there is some seriously impressive filmmaking on display here.
Addison Timlin stars as Kiya, a lonely but incredibly artistic young woman whose narcissistic, and occasionally mean-spirited, performance art slowly begins going viral online. Whether she be holding up convenience stores so that employees piss their pants or simply videotaping herself doing yoga, Kiya’s unique art begins generating a significant amount of buzz online. But after her authenticity is brought into question by Burt (Ian Nelson), an angry young man with an undying hatred for his peers, Kiya decides to kidnap a lonely motel owner (Larry Fessenden) in order to prove to the world that she is legitimate.
Oddly enough, Like Me isn’t nearly as satirical as most films about the YouTube generation tend to be. In fact, Mockler approaches the film’s subject matter through a lens of sincerity and analyzes the thought processes of people who go to great, arguably unethical lengths in order to generate popularity through social media. The conclusion that Like Me comes to isn’t a humorous one. In fact, it’s actually quite sad because it is so honest.
A lot of that honesty comes from the incredible performances of its three main cast members. Timlin brings a subtle amount of brokenness to every scene to the point where even when Kiya appears to be enjoying herself, there’s a sliver of self-hatred that shines through. It’s never clear whether or not Kiya thinks she is the worst human being on the planet or God’s gift to us all, and that ambiguity is necessary in order to make the film work. Similarly, Larry Fessenden is just heartbreaking as a man who has lost all purpose in life and now resorts to sniffing paint out of a paper bag in order to feel something. In one of the legendary genre filmmaker’s strongest performances in years, he reminds us all how great he actually is in front of the camera.
On the other end of the spectrum, Ian Nelson delivers, mostly through YouTube-style monologues, what should be a breakout performance for the young actor. In an era in which many intelligent, overeducated, pissed off young people feel as though the wrong people are being lionized by society, Nelson captures that emotion in a way that is simply incredible. He does a lot with a little and really makes the most of his brief amount of time onscreen, becoming the voice of the audience in a lot of ways.
While the performances are strong, so is the aesthetic. There are numerous hallucinatory sequences and scenes that are essentially erratic, music video-style montages that arguably occur a bit too frequently, but Like Me eventually comes together in a satisfying way. Due to the neon-soaked cinematography from James Siewert, there’s a dreamy vibe to the film that makes it feel as though it is set in some sort of otherworldly landscape even though the performances are relatively grounded.
As is always the case with films that are as unique as this one, responses to Like Me are sure to be polarizing, but it is undeniable that a lot of creative risks are taken, and that’s something you just have to respect from first-time filmmakers. This is an audacious directorial debut for Mockler, and it’ll be interesting to see where he goes from here.
Like Me recently screened at SXSW 2017.