Tuesday’s Reviews – Haters Back Off (2016)

fucking awful, fucking idiot, meh, Netflix, review, television, YouTube

Over the last few months my dedication to YouTube has waned slightly and I don’t regularly watch as many videos as I used to. However, over the years I’ve been through a series of obsessions with certain channels before getting bored of them. I guess because, when it comes to these things, I have the attention span similar to the life of a mayfly. One of the people I used to be an avid subscriber of was Miranda Sings. When I first watched the videos created by Colleen Ballinger I thought they were fucking hilarious but, over time, everything was just painfully similar. The character is absurd, sure, but there is only so many videos you can make around the concept before it becomes a bit too familiar. However, I am obsessed with her brother’s vlog channel so I feel like I’ve been hearing about the Miranda Sings Netflix show for absolutely ages. So, when it finally came out on Friday, I decided I should watch it.

Haters Back Off is intended to introduce the world outside of YouTube to Colleen Ballinger’s comedy character, Miranda Sings, whilst also showing her army of fans her life behind the camera. Starting from the moment she posts her first video, the show takes us on her journey towards fame. Miranda follows the five step plan set out by her ambitious Uncle Jim (Steve Little) and is encouraged by her hypochondriac mother Bethany (Angela Kinsey). These are characters that have, thus far, been unseen elements of Sings’ YouTube career but have been discussed at length. The two new elements to her world are her lovelorn neighbour Patrick (Erik Stocklin) and her sensible sister Emily (Francesca Reale). Patrick lets Miranda get away with anything whilst Emily deals with the constant sources of embarrassment that her family deals out without her friends finding out about them.

This show seemed like a no-brainer for Netflix and would clearly bring about a shitload of Miranda fans from YouTube onto the streaming site. However, Miranda doesn’t really transition too well into a longer format. She found fame thanks to her misguided belief that she was an amazing singer yet possessed no real talent. This is the kind of shtick that works in bursts of 3-4 minutes but got kind of grating. Obviously understand that not all protagonists have to be easy to root for but Miranda is so abhorrent that it’s not just hard but almost impossible. It’s the kind of thing that’s funny for a bit but when it’s all you’re facing it just gets boring. In this format you really realise just how much of the Miranda persona is based on negativity. 
And I’m not just talking about the character herself but her origin. Every interview Ballinger has given about the birth of her alter ego is based around her derision of the girls who can’t sing yet dare to post videos of themselves to the internet. It’s basically Ballinger, a trained singer, shitting on everyone who isn’t professionally trained yet enjoys trying. It’s always struck me as massively egotistical on Ballinger’s part that she not only judges these people on face value alone but feels that she can use them to further her career. It’s mean. Especially as she, a great singer, isn’t actually using her talent to gain views. Miranda is just Ballinger, hiding behind comedy, to bully countless people who don’t have the natural talent that she is lucky enough to possess.
Haters Back Off just takes this idea further by adding in more character’s for Ballinger and co. to take the piss out of. All of Miranda’s family are quirky yet realistic. It’s an exaggerated version of lower-middle class family life yet intended to poke fun at the people at the heart. Take the single mother who struggles to make ends meet and keep her children happy. She is mocked for her protectiveness and her ability to make medical mountains out of imaginary molehills. It’s not a funny pastiche of life in this environment but the general mocking of those types of people. Ballinger has suggested the series was intended to show the heart and emotion behind the character but all it does is reveal the lack of it in the writing. 
There are some funny moments, sure, but for the most part I just felt sad watching this. Sad that Netflix put so much effort into such poor content. Sad that something so mean-spirited could be so popular. Sad that it will definitely get an awful second series. And sad that I’ll be one of the minorities that dare to say anything bad against it. The series follows a rather safe narrative structure but can never quite find the right tone or voice. It has moments of sheer ridiculousness followed by unnecessarily dark storylines. It’s insane. Just like the tone, which seems, for the most part, is written for the existing young fans of the YouTube channel but is augmented by an incredible amount of adult jokes. It’s trying to be all things at once and failing to be that good at any of them. 

SUNDAY RUNDOWN – THAT’S WHAT SHE READ

book haul, books, Kiefer Sutherland, Man Booker, Netflix, Penguin Books, recently watched, video games, YouTube

So this week came with some good news and some bad news. Fortunately, it was the same news so I didn’t need to get my head around multiple revelations. I got a second interview for the job I mentioned the other week. It’s fantastic because it means I didn’t fuck up as much as I thought I did but it’s terrible because it gives me more opportunities to fuck up. However, I’m all about the self-belief at the moment. By which I mean I’m delusional. Nah, it’s going to be fine. And I’ll make sure to have a large supply of doughnuts waiting for me when I’m done. The one thing I’ve learnt in my 28 years on this planet is that there isn’t any emotional problem that carbohydrates can’t solve.

Currently Reading

  • His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

Are you getting as bored of this as I am? Fucking reading slump just won’t go away. Somebody needs to slap me super hard.

Recently Purchased

  • Selection of Pocket Penguins
I bought three more of these books for no other reason than wanting a more complete collection. Yes, I have fuck all will-power but I do have a bloody great personal library. And an ever increasing TBR pile. This time I bought: The Good Soldier Švejk by Jaroslav Hašek, A Parisian Affair by Guy de Maupassant, and The Beast Within by Émile Zola. They’re all blue and they’re all gorgeous. How can I not buy more? 

  • Halting State – Charles Stross
This is a crime thriller tied up around video games, which sounds like exactly the kind of thing that would change my mind about crime thrillers. A heist is carried out on a MMORPG and the police officer called in to investigage thinks its a stupid thing to report. Until real-life crimes start being reported. This a tale when the walls between the real and the virtual come crashing down and a dangerous plot is revealed. I love the sound of this.

  • Letters to Kevin – Stephen Dixon
This was one of the books on my Most Anticipated Fiction of 2016 list but it’s taken me ages to get round to buying it. It’s a crazy farce and it’s wonderfully illustrated. I’m so glad I finally bought it and can’t wait to read it.
  • The Temple – Matthew Reilly (Blind Date Book Company)
Those of you who follow me on Instagram (and if you don’t I have to ask “why the fuck not?” I’m great) then you’ll have seen that this week I got another The Blind Date Book Company book, I’ve discussed this before on a rundown but it’s a great company. You pick a book based on four words alone. It’s exciting. The book I got this time was based on the following words: jungle, US Army, Mission, Discovery. It sounded like Heart of Darkness but is actually more like Indiana Jones or Tomb Raider. So, a bit trashy but fucking awesome.

Recently Watched
  • Haters Back Off
I decided to watch the new YouTube Netflix series this week to see how I felt about it. What did I think? Come back on Tuesday… if you dare.

  • Designated Survivor
Just like I dragged my feet with Jessica Jones I seem unwilling to carry on watching Luke Cage for fear of being disappointed or something. Instead, I’m indulging my love of Kiefer Sutherland and his face by watching this new series. So far I love it. It’s like House of Cards but a bit nicer.

The Duff (2015)

meh, review, rom-com, social media, teen movie, twitter, women, YouTube

I know we’ve been here before, dear friends, but I love teen movies. It comes from a childhood of watching John Hughes films and wanting to be Ally Sheedy or Molly Ringwald. There is nothing like sitting down with a shitty teen film; mostly because they only last about 90 minutes and don’t require any real thought. Although, now I’m inching ever closer to the big 3-0, I can’t help but find teen movies to be too fucking egotistical. Most films I’ve seen think they are much better than they actually are and than their predecessors. Obviously there are some exceptions, like 2010’s Easy A, but I’m just cold to most modern films in this genre. Particularly when the latest one, The Duff, opens with a declaration that The Breakfast Club (the King of all teen movies) is now irrelevant. You aren’t winning any fucking points with that kind of talk.

The phrase “the DUFF” is an acronym for Designated Ugly Fat Friend: a delightful term for that one member of any social group that is less desirable and easy to overlook. God knows, we needed a name for it. The job of the DUFF is to make their hot friends seem hotter and give lesser humans the chance to get closer to the beautiful people. Just when you thought modern society couldn’t get anymore fucking depressing Urban dictionary comes along with another gem like this.
After being forced to go to a party she didn’t want to attend, Bianca Piper (Mae Whitman) is crushed to be told that she is the DUFF of her threesome. Her childhood friend and jock neighbour Wesley (Robbie Amell) delights in explaining that, whilst she’s not exactly fat or ugly, Bianca is nothing in the grand scheme of things and only seen as a way for other guys to get close to her best friends, Casey (Bianca A. Santos) and Jess (Skyler Samuels).
This revelation sends Bianca into a downward spiral where she abandons her friends and questions her entire existence. Bianca, as it turns out, is a fucking idiot. Rather than ignoring the morons that fail to see her for who she is, Bianca turns to Wesley to My Fair Ladyher into someone men can’t ignore: particularly her long-term crush, Toby.
Unfortunately, the increased attention that Wesley is giving Bianca is noticed by the popular people and his ex-girlfriend, Madison (Bella Thorne), is particularly pissed-off. Madison is the Regina George of 2015 but with a greater arsenal of social media outlets to help her campaign of hate. The Duffmakes countless references to popular internet outlets at every turn: Bianca and her friends “defriend”, block and delete each other from their various accounts whilst Madison posts socially crippling videos of Bianca on YouTube. Whilst it may appeal to the younger generation, it seemed like a fucking desperate attempt by the filmmaker to seem relevant. The Duffwill get annoyingly dated the second the world realises Snapchat is a piece of shit.
It’s fair to say that Mae Whitman and Robbie Amell are the two bright points in an otherwise pedestrian teen comedy. Whitman has proved many times before that she excels in a supporting role thanks to her turns in Arrested Development, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, and Parenthood. Here she is able to make Bianca a funny, clever and realistic portrayal of a teenage girl. She is a charming character more easily compared to Juno than the typical teen movie heroine. I immediately warmed to Bianca and have added her to my list of style icons. She’s a fucking babe and I want her wardrobe.
Whitman has a great co-star in Amell to help her develop the emotional side of the story. Bianca and Wes have known each other since childhood and have delightful moments of banter and refreshing honesty with each other. The moments when the pair are allowed to remove themselves from the High School backdrop and get to grips with one another are the moments that really stand out. The pair bring heart and wit to a story that doesn’t really stand-out from the crowd.
For there is nothing clever about The Duffand certainly nothing that makes it a classic in the way that Clueless, Mean Girls and 10 Things I Hate About You are. The narrative is so fucking obvious from the outset that you won’t even get through the opening introductions before you realise who Bianca will end up with. There is no real time for character development within the tight plot. The supporting cast never get the chance to make much of an impression and proven actors like Allison Janney are left spouting uninspiring platitudes.

Even the two main characters only get a small amount of emotional growth as the writers seem too scared to tackle subjects that may seem too deep. There are moments when the pair bond over their fractured home-lives but this connection is quickly severed in favour of more soppy teen romance. It is true that Amell is able to bring out a second layer to the stereotypical Wes but he isn’t able to go any deeper.

The Duffis a good enough entry into the world of teen movies but it’s not the kind of thing that will stand the test of time. More than anything, it’s confused about what it’s trying to say: on the one hand it’s extolling the virtues of being true to yourself and on the other praising the decision to reject society’s labels and improve yourself. It’s too much of a fucking chicken to go deep enough in certain key issues like cyberbullying and merely scratches the surface in the way a Daily Mail scare piece might..

The Duffwill no doubt appeal to its target audience thanks to its main cast and characters but it’s unlikely to speak to an older audience. There is nothing too terrible about it but there is much that could and probably should have been improved. It tries to say something meaningful about society but in the laziest possible way. There are a few humorous turns and amusing lines regarding the teenage reliance on their phones and social media. You won’t necessarily remember The Duff in twelve months time but you also won’t still be regretting watching it. 

The Fault in Our Stars (2014)

Ansel Elgort, John Green, review, Shailene Woodley, teen movie, YouTube
I have to admit, I’m a little bit in love with John Green. It’s one of the unfortunate side effects of religiously watching various YouTube personalities. The number of people I’m currently besotted with is getting fairly worrying. However, despite this innocent infatuation, it wasn’t until I became intrigued by all of the hype surrounding his runaway success The Fault in Our Stars that I actually read his books. I don’t think I’ve ever really seen the point of YA fiction. I hardly indulged when I was a member of the intended audience bracket so definitely couldn’t be bothered after I left it. After reading, I was pleasantly surprised. Green’s novel is well written and deals with certain subjects in a sensitive and realistic way. However, I hated his representation of modern day teenagers and felt that some moments were just uncomfortable. Plus, despite the warning from a young colleague of mine, I didn’t find myself turning into an absolute wreck at the end because it becomes painfully obvious where the novel is heading very early on. It’s something that stopped me from finishing Gone Girl and it almost prevented me from making my way through TFIOS.

Of course, these days you can’t go anywhere on YouTube without someone discussing John Green and the film adaptation of his novel. It’s a lovely symbol of the website’s community and it has also ensured that the film is one of the most eagerly anticipated teen films since Harry Potter ended. Watching the gleeful writer update his subscribers on the making of the film has been joyous and, when I sat down to watch the finished product, I don’t think I’d ever believed I such an intense desire for a film to be a success.

The Fault in Our Starsis the love story of two teenagers, which is exactly the kind of tale that would usually have me reaching for the sick bucket. If not even Shakespeare can make hyperbolic teenage romance seem worthwhile then I don’t know who can. However, there is more to the story as both parties are suffering from or in recovery from cancer. So this isn’t exactly your typical banal teen rom-com but nor is it your typical cancer story.
 Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) has been living with cancer since she was a child and leads a quite life where she relies on an oxygen tank to get about. Pushing her daughter to try and live as normal a life as possible, her mother (Laura Dern) insists on her attending a support group run by a well-meaning but misguided cancer survivor. Luckily, Hazel meets the mysterious and hunky Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort) and suddenly finds herself on a journey of love, hope and discovery.
Both teens, in an attempt to find an interest outside of their cancer, become obsessed with a book about a girl dying of cancer. In a pretentiously post-modern way, the novel in question, An Imperial Affliction ends in the middle of a sentence. In a thoroughly transparent move that is happily indulged by every sane adult she comes into contact with, Hazel becomes adamant that she has to find out what happens to the family of the sick girl after her literary death so her knight in shining armour (complete with annoying and hollow metaphor) whisks the increasingly ill girl to Amsterdam to question the book’s reclusive author (Willem Defoe). Seriously, what is with the supervising adults in this world?
My main issue with the film, and I guess by association the novel, is that is it very quickly becomes everything it sets out not to be. The opening voiceover suggests that this isn’t the Hollywood cliché where attractive young people fall in love and everything is fantastic. Although, that is exactly what it is. It is an idealistic story of two attractive, witty, clever and unrealistic teenagers who very quickly fall into an all encompassing love. Take the cancer away and you wouldn’t even have a pedestrian teen flick. I mean when you really think about it TFIOS is essentially just Twlight if Edward’s vampirism becomes only having one leg, Bella’s stroppiness becomes cancer, and the evil vampires/werewolves become an alcoholic writer.
John Green knows what he’s doing though. There are a lot of sentiments and phrases that are so beautifully written that you can’t help but get drawn into the story for most part. I mean even a natural cynic like myself can’t quite get over the poetry of the line “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.” I mean it is shit like that has given birth to my unrequited love for the author. Although, just like when reading a Dan Brown and you know why every chapter ends on a fucking cliff hanger, you do sit there well aware that everything being set in motion before you is intended to rip you (or at least its teenage audience) to emotional shreds.
Of course, I maintain that the most emotional moment in the book and the film is Hazel’s memory of her mother weeping “I won’t be a mother anymore”. Even writing that sentence had me on the edge of tears because, quite frankly, it the adults who are the most realistic characters. Laura Dern and Sam Trammell (who for a really long time I thought was the dad in Gossip Girl and it was really off-putting) were fantastic but underplayed thanks to the dominance of the all important romance.
The film stays incredibly faithful to the book and not always for the better. Upon first reading I found the
scene in Anne Frank’s house kind of weird but Green managed to just about pull it off with Hazel’s narration. After seeing it played out on the big screen I have to ask whether it was inappropriate to include it. When Justin Bieber made the stupid move of calling Anne Frank a ‘Belieber’ the world nearly crucified him: this film shows two teenagers casually make-out in the room where people hid from death every day and teenagers lap it up. Now I’m not one to stick up for the Bieb but do we not think there’s something a little fucked up in the logic? All I can say is, if, in the next few years, I find myself stuck behind hoards or horny teenagers waiting for their own special moment in Anne Frank’s bedroom then I’ll know who to blame.
It’s unfortunate that this tale will quickly become the romantic story that all misguided teenagers aspire to find themselves. I understand that everything could have been a lot worse and the main characters, apart from their kind of unrealistic and annoying traits, are pretty positive role models. Gus and Hazel are both intelligent (perhaps too intelligent) and handle their respective situations with maturity and humour. They also have a great chemistry thanks to their portrayal by Woodley and Elgort. I have to admit I had a bit of an issue with Woodley’s character but that probably has more to do with the actress’ fucking stupid comments on feminism recently. As I mentioned earlier, I’m still not completely convinced that the pair represent modern teenagers but I’ll take Hazel Grace and the metaphor wielding Gus over Bella and Edward any day.
TFIOS isn’t the teenage tome of our time and it certainly isn’t the greatest film that has ever been created. There is so much about it that I disliked or found questionable about both sources. However, TFIOSdoes everything it sets out to do well and it’s hard not to walk out feeling emotionally fraught but with a new outlook on life. Watch it by all means but make sure you take off your rose-tinted glasses off first.