Infamous is a film that thinks it wants to say things but actually, very obviously, wants to say nothing. It is, ironically, the very thing it wants to hate. The vapid, commentary of someone who read the CliffNotes on society then decided to post about it on Instagram. It wants to be about our addiction to social media and the ends we go to to get attention from total strangers but its hollowness is akin to the very social networks it tries to demonize.
If it was a smarter film one might argue its thematic emptiness was intentional; a meta commentary from director/writer Joshua Caldwell that reflects back the very word we live in. It is not that smart. Giving this movie any credit at all is giving it more credit than it will ever deserve.
Director: Joshua Caldwell
Release Date: June 11, 2020
At one point during Infamous our two protagonists, Arielle (Bella Thorne) and Dean (Jake Manley) are watching a newscast that likens their rampant crime spree to Bonnie and Clyde. It is, of course, that. The pair fall in love in rural Florida and after an accident kills Dean’s dad the two hit the road robbing banks. Initially, these robberies are just to survive but Arielle is obsessed with becoming famous and begins live streaming the robberies, garnering a following on social media as people cheer them on. Ostensibly, her need for fame makes her take more and more risks as the movie progresses and her decisions become more violent and brazen, much to Dean’s chagrin.
There could be something to it, honestly. However, the very fact that the film feels the need to bluntly remind you of Bonnie and Clyde should tell you everything you need to know about how the movie handles almost any emotional or thematic storytelling. Arielle and Dean’s love affair is summed up in a brief montage that looks like it was shot for a CW teen drama. Caldwell’s love story feels like a teenage girl’s recreation of what love is and not the real thing and it derails most of his film. Dean’s inability to leave Arielle even as she is literally causing them to get chased by the cops would resonate if the love story functioned at all. Instead you’re left screaming at his idiocy.
It doesn’t help that Arielle’s character makes no sense at all. The film veers dramatically in its representation of her. At times having her be played entirely straight while at others hinting insanity. Neither come off and you’re left confused as to who and what the point of all of the robbing and killing is. The movie even opens with her addressing the camera, setting up an unreliable narrator aspect but never uses it again. It dabbles with hallucination, pretending to push into Avante-Garde Natural Born Killers territory but never commits to that either. In the end, you’re left with a movie that feels as flat and lifeless as its main characters are.
It doesn’t help that Thorne can’t handle the role at all. It’s quite possible, though unlikely, that Caldwell wanted to hint at Arielle’s sociopathy with a performance from an actor that would display the simmering need to be famous as insanity subtlely. Thorne has none of that. She plays it straight and when she does try to go deeper it usually falls flat: an overblown lip bite signals love, a furrowed brow signals anger, a massive wink at the camera signals… something. There’s nothing deeper to her performance. It’s as if she read the script and though, “Yup, this social-media-fueled crime spree makes total sense and this character is clearly normal.”
It would be interesting to see if a better actor could pull the film unintentionally into ironic glory. Had someone been cast in the role who could give Arielle the manic, subtle layer of sociopathic insanity it needed there is a chance that the film could have accidentally been turned into something more. On the flip side, if Caldwell had a creative bone in his body and had delivered a move with more subtext than “Bonnie and Clyde but with social media” the same could be said. Instead Infamous is just a mess of ideas and a crappy teenage love story that is mostly just uninteresting. It’s not even bad enough to live up to its name.