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‘Jawline’ Review: Lives Measured in Follower Counts

No movie this year has made a more powerful argument for unplugging than “Jawline,” a disturbing, darkly hilarious documentary on live-broadcasting influencers. In this market, aspiring teenage social-media stars chase fame while their followers seek a shoulder to lean on (perhaps especially in situations when parents or mental health care aren’t available). Adults circle, ready to exploit any profits.

The director Liza Mandelup’s entry point into this world is a young man from Tennessee: Austyn Tester, who was 16 at the start of filming. Coiffed like Justin Bieber (they all seem to be), he logs on to the website YouNow and, in video chats, encourages members of his virtual claque — mostly adolescent girls — to pursue their dreams.

A “Grey Gardens” for Generation Z, “Jawline” underscores the contrast between Austyn’s optimism and his drab surroundings. He lives in a house overrun by cats; his mother says his father contributed only physical and substance abuse to the family. But the internet has convinced Austyn he’s headed for celebrity. “My goal is to get famous, the money comes, and then I start helping the world,” he says.

As a contrast to Austyn’s ingenuousness, Mandelup offers Michael Weist, a manager in Los Angeles who scarcely looks older than his teenage clients. More camera-conscious than Austyn, he brags about having a direct line to the chief operating officer of the “prestigious and secretive” company Instagram. In the funniest scene, he insists that the phrase “you guys” will be interpreted as referring only to women.

His is just one of the many flavors of self-delusion captured in the film, which has an empathetic streak, as cruel as a description may make it sound. Here is an economy in which follower counts are equated with success, remote online interlocutors are perceived as friends and staring at computers substitutes for living.

Jawline

Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 39 minutes.

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