IRL (internet slang for “in real life”) is a thoughtful examination of dating in the digital age. The first shot focuses on Ian (Chase Hinton, who also wrote the film) editing his profile on a dating site, carefully choosing his words to curate an appealing identity. The various technologies Ian utilises —whether it be texts, phone calls, or dating apps—frequently fill the screen, placing the viewer in his lovesick point of view. A graphic designer by day and an artist in his heart, Ian is a hopeless romantic who cares little for being “casual”, searching for an amorous connection with someone. But his love life is just as chaotic as the abstract paintings he creates.
A clever montage pans back and forth between Ian and different girls that he takes to the same restaurant. They all have similar conversations about the complexities of using dating apps to find the one you love. There are too many unspoken rules about the precise timing and tenor of messages, what kind of date to ask someone on, how many messages to send to someone in a single day, and so on. The women are insulted when they learn that Ian messages 10 different girls a day. How can someone feel special when they are easily replaced with the swipe of a thumb? Ian defends what may seem like desperate behaviour; he is fed up with waiting several days for one woman to possibly answer him. Ian and the women he dates cannot come to a proper conclusion about what moral code to abide by using social media to date. Fortunately, Ian’s characterisation avoids any Nice Guy™ cliches and you empathise with his plight.
Everything changes when he meets Sofia (Johanna Sol), a woman with a mysterious and sophisticated magnetism. It’s no wonder Ian falls for her so hard. They share an immediate bond over their love of art and literature. The majority of IRL centres on their phone calls and focuses solely on Ian, leaving Hinton to do all of the emotional heavy lifting, which he excels at. Their extensive conversations are colored by an extraordinary score by Jakob Freudendahl, all at once melancholy and joyous, delicate sounds of their attachment growing stronger. Their sagacious conversations are reminiscent of Before Sunset, covering everything from philosophy to painful childhood traumas, religion, their families, hopes and dreams, and even feminism. Director Ricardo Perez-Selsky uses a simple, vérité approach to explore how lonely searching for love with social media can be. The tender vulnerability and intensity in Ian and Sofia’s scenes is a testament to the actor’s strong performances and Perez-Selsky’s exquisite direction.
Sofia’s love inspires Ian’s creativity, transforming his derivative art into something truly spectacular that earns him a coveted spot in an art gallery. But their blissful relationship has a catch. Not only does Sofia have to stay in Mexico to (understandably) help her mother deal with cancer, she also refuses to get on video chat with Ian, claiming that it is too expensive. This builds to an absolutely piercing climax. IRL is a penetrating depiction of yearning for connection in a hyper-connected world. It has a poignant resonance that lingers with you long after watching.
IRL is available to rent on VOD now
by Caroline Madden
Caroline is the author of Springsteen as Soundtrack. Her favourite films include Dog Day Afternoon, Baby It’s You, Inside Llewyn Davis, and The Lord of the Rings. She is the Editor in Chief of Video Librarian. She has an MA degree in Cinema Studies from SCAD. You can follow her on Twitter @crolinss.