I was never a part of a fraternity in college. At my alma mater, we had four fraternities and I was incredibly apathetic towards all of them. It wasn’t because of the people within them, in fact, one of their members is a close friend of mine, but more so the culture that was propagated not only through pop culture but through their own actions. Toxic masculinity. Hazing. Dude-bros. All of these are deeply associated with frat culture and The Line ensures you’re aware of it.
When I was about halfway through The Line, there was one question that just kept creeping into my mind as I was watching a fictional fraternity slowly but surely fall apart. I kept thinking to myself, “What’s so special about The Line? Is this movie really doing anything notable that I have never seen before? Not only that, is it even doing anything remarkably well?” When I got to the last fifteen minutes of this 101-minute film, I felt like it finally decided to be about something. But that’s still over 80 minutes of the movie telling me stuff I’m already very familiar with.
Director: Ethan Berger
Release Date: June 9, 2023 (Tribeca Film Festival)
Tom (Alex Wolff) is a sophomore at college who is a member of the fraternity Kappa Nu Alpha. Throughout the film, we learn about all of the high society members that came from KNA, including presidents, and how being a part of this group will almost set you up for life. Tom is set to become the president of the frat, but things begin to go awry when his closest friend, Mitch (Bo Mitchell), begins to antagonize one of the new pledges of the frat mercilessly. As things begin to escalate, Tom has to decide for himself how much he wants to be a part of this group and learns the hard way what everyone else is willing to do to remain members of this prestigious group.
If there’s one thing I’ll give The Line is that it tells its story deathly seriously. There’s little levity as we’re shown the dark underbelly that resides in KNA and how superficial it all is. Tom and Mitch talk about brotherhood, but they’ll willingly abuse the younger pledges solely out of a sense of tradition and turn on each other over the slightest grievance. They take the approach that if it happened to them, then they can continue the cycle of abuse but even further. Where things get more complicated is when we start to factor in wealth disparity. Tom comes from a poor background with a single mother and a dead father who had to work to get into KNA while Mitch’s wealthy father (John Malkovich) got him in, something that Mitch flaunts all the time.
When it’s telling a story about its fictional fraternity, The Line isn’t really all that remarkable. It hits all the familiar beats you would expect from a story about a group perpetuating a cycle of abuse just because it happened to them. It’s systemic abuse, but what gives The Line a little bit more flavor is the class commentary and how very uncinematic it ends up being. It’s interesting seeing who the brothers at KNA want to accept as pledges for their group and who actually ends up pleading due to financial and social connections.
Many of the best moments in the film are when you would expect some grand and cinematic moment to take place but you’re instead greeted with a deafening thud of reality. When people get pushed, they behave exactly as you would expect them to and when Tom tries to confide in his would-be love interest, Annabelle (Halle Bailey), she says she hardly knows him because they’ve only hooked up twice. Why would she become super invested in this guy she’s engaged with only a handful of times?
But all of these solid moments come right at the end of the film. The Line spends so much of its time making sure that you’re aware of the misogyny and unhealthy adherence to customs within fraternities that when it wants to do something new and interesting, the movie’s already over. I can appreciate that The Line attempts to add some depth to a story we’ve seen before, either on screen or in real life, but it’s too little too late. I’m left wanting more, but only because I was deprived of so much.
The Line isn’t a glamorous movie. It’s down to earth and points a dark look at a subsect of college life that people know is there but decide not to acknowledge. The cast is talented and there’s a lot of potential for the film to really shine, but it’s left repeating the same bullet points again and again. There are only so many times you can watch brothers in a frat abuse freshmen to show that most of their talk is meaningless. The social pressure that develops due to this environment is worth examining. By the time The Line realizes that I’m already thinking about something better and more worth my time.