Film Review: Fan Girl (★★½)

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LOS ANGELES FILM FESTIVAL: Here’s the thing about Fan Girl – it’s great if you like the band All Time Low rather than if you like its appealing cast. That is to say, if you don’t know who All Time Low are or you aren’t a fan of modern pop punk, it’s going to be struggle to get into it. I’ve heard of the group but I hadn’t really heard their music, I generally find the genre inoffensive so I could go with the film’s flow. Admittedly it should have definitely invented a band instead of recruiting one. It too often ends up being the Alex Gaskarth – aka frontman of the band – worship hour rather than the Kiernan Shipka show.

She stars as Telulah Farrow, a high school sophomore who adores All Time Low and filmmaking. A birthday video she makes for Gaskarth goes viral but she’s in the midst of stressing over a project she’s behind on for film class. So she utilizes her passion for the band to complete her assignment. I do love how her motivation is that she wants to impress Tina Fey, a judge for the film festival she’ll be entered in. I’m on board with that. But I’m disappointed to report that she does not make appearance, not until a series of stills in the end credits. Don’t forget, this is an All Time Low promo.

It feels like there’s a race to be the iconic teen movie of the 2010s, desperately updating the subgenre for the social network generation with nothing landing yet. Since John Hughes’ heyday, it’s been pretty barren besides Mean Girls, Juno and Easy A, if you only dig in the PG-13 barrel rather than the onslaught of sex comedies. Naturally, Fan Girl is crammed full of references to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr and so on – calling instagram pictures ‘instees’ without ever explaining it to those out of the loop. The film’s plot revolves entirely around how popular you can be online and where that can take you in life. Time will tell whether this makes these films instantly dated or a fresh snapshot of an era. It at least boasts contemporary fashion with its array of costumes.

That’s pretty much all Fan Girl has to offer for originality – that being in the grand scheme of teen movies. It’s unfortunate that it relies on such obvious humour. For example, the school announcer reads out: “the debate club meeting is cancelled because they couldn’t decide where to meet.” Hilarious if you’ve never heard the joke before. It has few charming moments, but it can be nauseatingly forced, such as Talulah’s fake British accent she puts on whenever she’s around her crush, as well as a Ron Slater-junior who’s nicknamed ‘Hashtag.’ Just as it wins me over, it finds a special way to grate me. At the very least, it’s an attractively shot film, even if it struggles to blend its styles including DSLR video and concert style footage.

Of course, the film’s greatest strength is Kiernan Shipka. While she always efficiently fit in with the low-key pompousness of Mad Men, she absolutely shines here in a leading role that feels comfortable in her skin. It is her commitment to the film that makes Fan Girl worthwhile. It’s the first time seeing Kara Hayward since Moonrise Kingdom and she too seems delighted to be out of the 1960s. They make a great pair. Meg Ryan also appears as her out-of-touch mother, but is only given tried and tested punchlines as she catches onto today’s technology. Scott Adsit is the highlight of the familiar faces as the overenthusiastic film teacher. Maybe watch it for these guys, but otherwise it’s skippable. Fan Girl’s very narrow niche will surely connect to it more than anyone.