Arielle (Bella Thorne) is a waitress in a small town, going nowhere. All she wants is to get away from her mother and seedy step-father… and to be famous. She doesn’t care what she becomes famous for, just as long as gets likes and followers.
Arielle’s life gets turned upside when she meets ex-con Dean (Jake Manley) who is new in town and working as a mechanic for his abusive father. The pair instantly form a connection, both of them dreaming of a new life away from the town and their families. He’s on parole and she lacks the funds, but after the death of Dean’s father they are forced to go on the run.
They aim to get to Hollywood, robbing gas stations and small shops on their way there. Arielle’s thirst for fame motivates her to livestream their crime. They soon become a viral sensation and audiences become to wonder whether they are livestreaming their crimes or whether they are violently robbing and killing to keep their follower count high.
There is a huge amount of style over substance in Infamous. Director of photography Eve M. Cohen aims to immerse the audience in Arielle’s version of reality. Many shots are filmed like they’re her social media feed with gonzo handheld camera shots and colourful filters. This gives it an appearance of a music video (Halsey, Marina and the Diamonds and 1975 have all made similar promos in recent years), desensitising audiences to any of the deeper meaning behind the film.
The juxtaposition between these bubblegum pop scenes where Arielle wears neon eyeliner and a pink wig and the violence is uncomfortable. Compared to last year’s poignant Queen & Slim, Infamous feels tacky and hollow, with these rebels without a cause shooting and robbing people with very few repercussions. By shooting the film from Arielle’s stylised point of view, it glamorises violence and in these current political times; it feels like a dangerous rhetoric.
In the hands of two young, charismatic actors, Infamous could have done what HBO’s Euphoria did for Gen Z representation. To say Bella Thorne is a wooden actress is an insult to wooden actors; many of her lines are delivered emotionless and cold. Jake Manley isn’t a bad actor, but he doesn’t bring any charisma to a role where his personality traits are ‘pretty’ and ‘tattooed’. Except for being attractive and owning an Instagram, these two vapid teenagers don’t really have anything interesting going for them. Unlike Queen & Slim, or even Bonnie and Clyde, it’s hard to root for these self-obsessed fame-seeking Gen Z’ers. There are no layers to the leads, no backstory that would make audiences care about their exploits. An empathetic backstory for either of the leads could have saved Infamous from the shallow portrayal of the cult of fame it ultimately becomes.
The lack of charisma from the two leads is especially noticeable when the pair come across Elle (Amber Riley). She’s stuck in her own dead end life, and follows Arielle and Dean as her form of escapism. She can’t fight the system in her mundane life so she’d rather sit back and watch someone else take control of their destiny. For the short period of the film she is in, she gives a heartfelt and touching performance. It’s only when we meet Elle and hear her reasons for following the pair does the sentiment of Infamous become apparent. In her brief time on screen, it’s easier to care about Elle than Arielle or Dean.
Writer/Director, Joshua Caldwell is clearly trying to make a point about the world of celebrity and influencers, but it feels as shallow as the lead characters. Infamous almost makes it seem like chasing the celebrity of online fame is a valid reason to hurt and kill people. Whilst it worryingly seems like a realistic consequence of how far some people will go, it’s an empty style-over-substance statement.
In the current world where many young people are using their voice for positive change, Infamous seems a damming portrayal of a generation that actually cares about more than followers and likes.
Infamous will be available on VOD and in select virtual cinemas on June 12th
by Amelia Harvey
Amelia is a freelance writer, frustrated novelist and occasional wrangling of international students. She is especially interested in LBGTQ culture and 1960s and 70s music. She also writes for Frame Rated, The People’s Movies and Unkempt Magazine, amongst others. Her favourite films include Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Moulin Rouge and Closer. You can find her on Twitter @MissAmeliaNancy and letterboxd @amelianancy