Cinema Review: Creative Control | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, July 9th, 2020  

Creative Control

Studio: Magnolia Pictures / Amazon Studios
Directed by Benjamin Dickinson

Mar 11, 2016 Web Exclusive
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Watching Creative Control, Benjamin Dickinson’s sophomore effort as writer/director, is like seeing Steven Soderbergh’s Kafka and Woody Allen’s Manhattan distilled through an Instagram filter. The film’s vibe is simultaneously timely and timeless, thanks to its wryly grim depiction of wearable virtual reality glasses in the not-so-distant future, via stark black and white shots and ambivalently hip New Yorker dialogue.

The plot centers on David (played by Dickinson), a slightly slick, but more so geeky ad exec tasked with marketing Augmented Reality glasses. The director deftly conveys the user’s experience with that device by having the glasses’ menus and graphics pop up alongside David’s head whenever he dons them. Before long, his ad campaign turns into a full-on addiction, as he creates a digitized version of his crush, Sophie (a serviceable Alexia Rasmussen, gamely taking on her underwritten role), who happens to be dating his debaucher best friend (played with rueful glee by Dan Gill). In the process, David further alienates Juliette, his already disheartened girlfriend (a sublimely pithy Nora Zehetner).

David’s infatuation with the virtual Juliette might seem like a reiteration of the man-machine romance depicted in Spike Jonze’s 2013 sleeper hit Her. But Creative Control mostly forgoes that earlier film’s gentle earnestness in favor of cynical satire. Reggie Watts (of Comedy Bang Bang fame) delivers a surreally hilarious spoof of the sort of YouTube celebrities that will surely star in tomorrow’s ad campaigns. Better still are Control’s behind-the-scenes glimpses of the advertising industry. One early boardroom scene, for instance, features real life media insiders like Gavin McInnes (Vice co-founder) and Jake Lodwick (inventor of Vimeo) playing caricatures of ad men, along with Dickinson, all of them oblivious to their crass superficiality (at one point they literally equate other virtual reality system with masturbation, and the Augmented Reality glasses with full on “fucking,” before miming the act with the fists and forefingers). That sentiment is fully realized during a later scene, when a client gripes about the authenticity of a commercial as it’s being filmed (“How are we supposed to know that he’s a pilot?” she asks, prompting David to snap: “He’s wearing a pilot’s outfit, and he’s in a cockpit!”).

But, in the end, Dickinson’s biggest satirical target is dysfunctional couples, hindered by technology’s conveniences until they’re unable to relate with anything flesh and blood. That theme is blatantly delivered in the scenes where David succumbs to the glasses’ 3D undertow. Those dystopic moments are chillingly effective, but they’re also all but eclipsed by subtler scenes, like a bedroom argument between David and Juliette in which she rejects his drunken advances with some of the most pointedly intimate dialogue written so far this year. In those universally ageless scenes, Dickinson’s screenwriting and acting reach their peak, and are sure to win over even the most sensitive of detractors, who may otherwise be put off by the film’s unapologetic cynicism. But niche audiences, with a fondness of honest bitterness and Woody Allen-esque neuroticism, will love the Creative Control through and through.

Author rating: 7/10

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