Jawline (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): A young social media star chasing after his dream

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Hulu documentary film “Jawline” observes the quick ascent of an adolescent social media star who, as far as shown from the documentary, is a simple decent lad who just wants to chase after his dream. While it is often fascinating to watch how this likable lad and many other good-looking young people attain fame and popularity via the ongoing technology development of our time, we are also reminded of how brief and fleeting their success is, and you may pity him a bit especially when he comes to face some harsh reality in the end.

At the beginning, we meet a 16-year-old boy named Austyn Tester, and we see how he and his friend make his latest video clip posted on the Internet. Thanks to his handsome appearance and incessant positive thinking demonstrated via many of his video clips, Austyn has drawn thousands of online followers who are mostly young girls around his age, and they are all ready to send their love via thousands of ‘Likes’ whenever he puts himself on online live-broadcast.

Through his online fame and popularity, Austyn eagerly wants to go further outside his rural town in Tennessee while spreading more positivity around his enthusiastic followers and the outside world, and the documentary lets us discern how mundane and hopeless life is for him and others around him. While his mother frankly admits some of her personal problems in front of the camera, his older brother tells us how much he wants the same thing his younger brother has been enjoying, and we can clearly see that they live through Austyn’s online success to some degree as wholeheartedly supporting his aspiration.

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And it looks like Austyn is really going to move onto the next step toward his ultimate aspiration when he comes to have a savvy business guy named Michael Weist as his manager, who has already managed several other young online celebrities just like Austyn. We soon see them working in a nice and big house located in LA for whatever they are going to upload next on the Internet, and everything is thoroughly supervised and controlled by Weist, who is usually occupied with how much he earns through his young online celebrities everyday.

While pushed to here and there around the country along with his fellow online celebrities by Weist, Austyn comes to enjoy more of that sweet smell of fame and success. At one point, we see him and his fellow online celebrities presenting themselves in front of hundreds of girls eager to make a contact with them, and Austyn is willing to get closer to those girls because he genuinely wants to give them some positive influence. To many girls who are not so sure about themselves because of numerous reasons including bullying at school, he surely provides them some comfort and assurance through his optimism and positive thinking, and he really cares about what he is doing.

However, we cannot help but notice that he merely sells his youthful and confident appearance to those many young girls out there – and that there is really nothing else for him to sell besides that. As demanded more and more by Weist, Austyn comes to feel more pressured than before, and then he eventually decides to take a break from his work, but it does not take much time for him to realize how hard it is to maintain his social media status. Although he posts some photographs and video clips from time to time, he soon comes to lose his online followers day by day, and then he finds himself becoming less enthusiastic about his social media activity than before.

As more depressed about his ongoing decline, Austyn also comes to experience harsh reality in more than one way. Once Austyn does not seem to be a valuable asset anymore, Weist promptly walks away from Austyn, and he does not even give Austyn what Austyn has earned via his social media activity, while already ready to recruit younger boys who will be as popular as Austyn. In the end, Austyn has no choice but to work in a local shopping mall for earning his living, and, to his humiliation, he also has to go back to high school and then will have to study for several extra years for getting a diploma.

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And the mood gets a bit tense in his family house as he often conflicts with his mother and older brother. Both of them remind Austyn at times that things are now quite different than before, but Austyn still cannot get over from what he has inadvertently lost, and his only comfort comes from his pet cat and its three little cute kittens, which, in my inconsequential opinion, always steal the show whenever they are in front of the camera.

Nevertheless, as his older brother says around the end of the documentary, Austyn is still optimistic about whatever will happen next in his life, and it is clear that director Liza Mandelup, who won the US Documentary Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Filmmaker when her documentary was shown at the Sundance Film Festival early in this year, examines her human subject with care and empathy. When Austyn recites a poem to be posted on the Internet, the camera only watches him quietly, but it generates some sad poignancy, and you may find yourself hoping that nothing bad will happen to him in the future.

Overall, “Jawline” works as a cautionary tale about the fame and popularity on social media, and it made me reflect a bit on how I have interacted with many other people out there via Twitter and Instagram during last several years. Fortunately, I usually came across a number of wonderful people such as my late friend Roger Ebert, and, in fact, I am relieved that most of my online interactions have been fairly productive and beneficial. Although I observed his story with some critical thinking, I felt sorry for Austyn nonetheless during my viewing, and I will not deny that a certain phrase comes to my mind now: “There – but for the grace of God – go I…”

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