It seems like any studio executive in his right mind would be jumping at the chance to work with YouTube's top talent. YouTubers have massive followings, often numbering in the millions. Take, for example, Shane Dawson, whose two main channels have a combined following of 10 million people, or Grace Helbig, Hannah Hart and Mamrie Hart, who together have over 6 million followers. Much like the box office draw of traditional movie stars, it seems like anything YouTubers make should have a built-in audience. It worked for Lucas Cruikshank and his fictional character Fred, who got a movie and two sequels on Nickelodeon. But why aren't YouTubers gracing the big screen yet?
There's just one problem: quality. While Shane Dawson's popularity has certainly helped his movie, Not Cool, climb into the top movies on iTunes (as of this writing it's the 32nd most-purchased movie, right behind A Million Ways to Die In the West), it seems unlikely to garner any new converts to Dawson's brand of comedy. Not Cool is, in a word, bad.
Produced as part of a Project Greenlight-style competition on Starz called The Chair, Not Cool is a truly offensive film that relies on tired, misogynistic tropes and two-dimensional characters. Perhaps this is to be expected from a content creator who's currently drawing attention for the use of blackface in his YouTube sketches, but the movie is egregious. The style of humor that apparently works in his shorter YouTube videos (typically in the 4-6 minute range) wears unbearably thin within the first 20 minutes of the movie. Crude humor abounds, particularly of the too-graphic sexual variety — did we really need to see the penis of the homeless man you've already mocked so mercilessly?
More troubling than the un-funny humor, though, is the movie's treatment of women and minorities. There's a very exploitative feeling to the treatment of the homeless man, who is the most prominent non-white character in the movie (while the actress playing Dawson's sister is Hispanic, she is playing the daughter and sister of non-Hispanic actors, and her character is presumably white).
Additionally, Not Cool perpetuates the troubling ideas that stalking is romantic, slut-shaming is funny/acceptable and a litany of other problematic lessons. This is particularly striking in contrast to the current backlash in the YouTube community against Sam Pepper, who posted videos of himself groping of the backsides of young women, and is currently facing serious allegations of rape. YouTube has a significant feminist community, so it's disappointing to see this kind of content being created by one of its notable personalities.
Far less objectionable is Camp Takota, a sweet indie flick made by Helbig, Hart, and Hart (who are not related). Takota follows Helbig's character, who after a series of unfortunate events and a lot of alcohol finds herself working at her childhood summer camp alongside her childhood best friends. The film reads as a love letter to summer camp and friendship, but keeps itself from being too saccharine through interspersed inebriation (it is perhaps worth mentioning here that Hannah Hart's YouTube channel is called "My Drunk Kitchen," while Mamrie Hart's is "You Deserve a Drink").
It suffers from pacing problems, most likely as a result of the transition from shorter YouTube videos to a 100-minute movie. Plus it's a tad far-fetched and about 20 minutes too long. But Camp Takota is a charming first feature.
Both of these films were experiments, in a way — produced for less than $1 million and released through the increasingly-popular VOD format, though Not Cool had a limited theatrical run in L.A. and New York, as part of the reality show process. Fellow YouTuber Kurt Schneider opted to take a similar tack, releasing his 2010 movie College Musical on VOD last month. That film was made when Schneider had 90,000 subscribers — nothing to sneeze at, but a number that pales in comparison to his current following of over 4.5 million.
YouTube duo Smosh is up next, as their film was recently picked up for distribution by Lionsgate. Despite their 18 million subscribers, success is not a safe bet. As one of them told Variety, "We had to learn how to act.”
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