On the eve of her 25th birthday, Becky readies for her big birthday, taking the prerequisite time to prepare herself not just for the festivities, but for its documentation on social media. She spends endless amounts of time and energy on Instagram, tracking her likes and followers as well as the pictures of others, which portray all the milestones she seems to lack: weddings, vacations, job success.
But as she sails into her party — much of which is taken up with creating perfect pictures for Instagram — she’s concealing a deeper sorrow under the carefree smiles: she recently had an argument with her friend, an earth-shattering conversation that revealed just how toxic her self-absorption has become and just what her Instagram obsession is costing her.
Writer-director David Mandell’s short drama aims to be a generational statement from its title, but it gets its resonance by creating a well-observed, deeply empathetic character portrait of one beautiful, troubled girl and her relationship with social media.
Like a Moebius strip, we see Becky’s pains to be “that girl” on social media, as she preens for the camera and contorts herself to create just the right selfie for Instagram. We also see just how saturated her life and her social circle is with social media awareness, with talk of followers and likes. But we also see the insecurity and need for attention that drives her behavior.
Like the glossy, glamorous most-liked pictures on Instagram, the film has the polished, sun-soaked look peculiar to films set in California, filled with a brightness and luminosity that seems to cover everything with a sheen of blithe, carefree prosperity.
Actress Isabel Pakzad does a terrific job balancing the essential divided selves of her role. She plays the persona of the popular, beautiful and successful social media “It girl” with aplomb, but when the story goes deeper, she also hints at Becky’s despair and possible depression, flickering between hurt, self-awareness, self-loathing and vulnerability.
When her friend Chelsea confronts her about her self-absorption in a well-balanced, emotionally complex scene that forms the emotional heart of the film, we understand exactly where Chelsea is coming from, but Pakzad also plays just enough of her character’s core of emptiness and isolation that we can see it’s not just a character flaw of selfishness, but something deeper and sadder at work. The realization drives her to the brink of the unthinkable, but then she gets a small reminder of what really matters — enough to put on a smile and a happy face once again for the pictures.
“This Is 25” begins with a breezy glossiness that resembles the persona of its central character, and functions also as a portrayal of what it means to come of age and into adulthood with an anonymous, distant yet all-powerful audience. It also asks questions of what role social media plays in mental health and possibly illness. As it proceeds, though, its storytelling goes underneath the pretty but brittle surface and into deeper, more resonant territory.
We may not all be social media stars, but there is enough exploration of the divide between public and private selves to reflect many people’s experiences, not just the social media generation. Most of us have faces that we spackle on to cover our deep-seated insecurities and inadequacies, in order to get through life. But what happens when the mask we put on becomes the self? With the relentless documentation of today, the lines can become perilously blurred.