Viral Beauty (2016): A Sign of the Times (Review) [Update]

Casey Killoran as Marsha Day

[Update] We have been informed by the star, and executive producer, of Viral Beauty; Casey Killoran, that the film is premiering at the “Frozen Film Festival” February 1 – 4, 2017. Head on over to the site and to find out further information. For the actual screen time please see the end of this review.

Written by Elizabeth Lam and directed by David Tyson Lam, Viral Beauty stars Casey Killoran as Marsha Day, Mark Junek as Will Durham and features Perez Hilton and a slew of YouTube/social media personalities.

The film can be seen as a sign of the times, a cautionary tale that encompasses Internet trolls, marketing and YouTube as well as other world wide web platforms and their “stars.” 

Viral Beauty has one singular message to deliver; this is the age of Internet stardom and this medium will continue to give us the “next big thing” until something else comes along.  Not necessarily a new personality, as this happens on a regular basis anyway, but more like another alternative to the Internet with its daily doses of Vine (RIP), Instagram and YouTube.

There are other streaming services, for example, which have devoted fans. Twitch, Periscope and Snapchat are other mediums that allow the creative, weird and wonderful to air their wares, so to speak.

Viral Beauty tells us that this is the time of Internet personalities and stars that have nothing to do with the traditional mediums of television, film and/or stage.  There are YouTube and Vine “stars” who are working in television and film, much to the derision of two time Oscar winning Brit actress  Emma Thompson, and their actual worth as performers is debatable.

(Look at the dire Hulu thriller Freakish and the substandard acting by the “YouTubers and Viners.” There are other “millennial” aimed programs to chose from. Another example of execrable acting and abysmal writing can be found on the Netflix series Haters Back Off.)

Viral Beauty does not rely upon the acting talents of these personalities but rather uses their natural charisma and ease in front of the camera to prove its point.

What is the point, exactly? Well, the film tells us that the Internet is a minefield that not only urges its users to engage in unashamed amounts of narcissism, but it also raises each person’s expectations falsely.

Killoran’s character starts the film as an “average” overweight female who posts a dating advertisement. She asks for suitors who are, according to the world of the cyber bullies, out of her league. Perez Hilton airs her video and opens up a world of criticism and the haters latch onto Marsha.

This inadvertently launches her into a sort of Internet stardom that is capitalized on by Zara Zhang (Ruibo Qian) a type of talent manager who sees an opportunity to market Marsha’s newfound “popularity.” 

The film follows Day’s journey from infamy to fame and along the way we are privy to her ups and downs.  Viral Beauty works hard to give its audience a “fly on the wall” perspective. It feels almost like a web documentary or, at the very least, like an Internet version of The Hills or The City.

It is interesting to see that fame, no matter what flavor or color, affects everyone pretty much the same. There is the incredulous feeling at the start of  it all. The “star” is swept away by their incredible good luck. This then turns into the inevitable selling-out phase when that fame starts to fade.

Director Lam shows us what depths these new stars will go to and even shows, somewhat peripherally, how these famous personalities make their money and lose it.

The film is a comedy, but it does not deviate too far from its acerbic approach.  Day is almost a Cinderella type character whose escape from mediocrity is accidental.  We do feel for Marsha as she earns her lumps for that meteoric rise in popularity.

Viral Beauty is a 4.5 star film that comes very close to earning a full roster. It is clever in its criticism of Internet stardom, the monsters it creates and the lives it changes.  The brother sister team (David and Elizabeth) offer up this romantic comedy of errors with a dose of wry humor that makes the tale, and its message, very palatable.

The film is premiering at the Frozen Film Festival, 1 – 4 February, 2017. Viral Beauty set to be screened on Friday, Feb. 3 @  9pm- Weyerhaeuser Auditorium.

Viral Beauty Poster

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Author: Michael Knox-Smith

World traveler, writer, actor, journalist. Cinephile who reviews films, television, books and interviews professionals in the industry. Member Nevada Film Critics Society

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