SXSW Film Review: Social Animals

Doc is a smart cautionary tale on the power of social media

Social Animals director Jonathan Ignatius Green's 14-year-old isn't on social media. Let that sink in, parents, as you delve into this tale of Instagram gone wrong and semi-right.

The doc follows three teens as they maneuver the minefields of growing up in a world where likes and followers matter above all else. There's Humza, a New York City urban explorer who sees climbing bridges and tall buildings as his route to photography fame. Semi-spoiler: It works but not without consequences. Meanwhile in the Los Angeles 'burbs, blond, tanned, and perfectly sculpted/charming 15-year-old model Kaylyn's wealthy car-dealer dad promises a clothing line when she hits 500,000 Instagram followers. Contrast that with Emma, who is not-so-safe in the Midwest with an Instagram habit that leads to cyberbullying.

Emma's story strays a tad toward Dateline episode fodder, but the intercutting of the three plots combined with stunning cinematography keeps the doc's engine chugging forward. Green's original concept for the film was focused on photography in the age of social media, but it evolved into a larger cautionary tale of Instagram celebrity. Humza's photo comrades turn on him as a suspected snitch when the law closes in. Kaylyn attracts a stalker. Emma droops into ennui.

Green fills the gaps with mini-interviews with average teens whose savvy words give hope. The doc is a smart if somewhat familiar cautionary tale on the power of social media to create false realities and stroke tender egos.

Social Animals

Documentary Feature Competition, World Premiere
Wednesday, March 14, 11:30am, Alamo Lamar E

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

Austin Institution Saxon Pub Survives in SXSW Documentary
Austin Institution Saxon Pub Survives in SXSW Documentary
A glimmer of hope amid Austin development in Nothing Stays the Same: The Story of the Saxon Pub

Doug Freeman, March 8, 2019

Kathy Bates, Marc Maron, and More Confirmed for Texas Film Hall of Fame Ceremony
Kathy Bates, Marc Maron, and More Confirmed for Texas Film Hall of Fame Ceremony
We know the winners, now who'll be running the show?

Richard Whittaker, Feb. 14, 2019

More by Joe O'Connell
Texas Book Festival 2019: Truth Worth Telling: A Conversation With Journalist Scott Pelley
Festival 2019: Truth Worth Telling With Scott Pelley
Newsman Scott Pelley had words of advice about media in the modern age

Oct. 28, 2019

Texas Book Festival 2019: On Second Look: Writing About Home From New Perspectives
Festival 2019: On Second Look
Oscar Cásares and De'Shawn Charles Winslow keep it all in the family

Oct. 28, 2019


Social Animals, Jonathan Ignatius Green, SXSW Film 2018

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle