SXSW 2012 Review: ‘King Kelly’ Surpasses Its Gimmick to Deliver a Wildly Fun and Depressing American Tale
The so-called YouTube generation, aka the ‘Me’ generation, doesn’t get a lot of respect. To be sure, that’s 100% their own doing thanks to their decision to live in an egotistical video bubble. Technology has reached a point where anyone and everyone can get themselves onscreen regardless of talent or worth, and society does the rest. The American public eats up all manner of reality television in multiple forms from actual TV shows to nut-shot video clips to online porn sites to cell phone captures of self-important nonsense.
It’s those last two mediums, the internet porn and cell phone video, that meet in the new film King Kelly to tell a story about one specific member of this vapid, selfish and ultimately lost section of the population. We follow Kelly through a one day period in July and witness nothing short of the decline of Western civilization.
Well, maybe it’s a little short of that, but we do watch as Kelly finds herself caught up in a search for stolen drugs, threats against her life and the arrival of her number one (and highly unstable) fan. She quickly and consistently proves herself to be exactly the kind of brat to star in her own TV show on the E! Network.
The film is shot almost entirely on iPhones, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that sounds like an immediate recipe for disaster. An obnoxious young woman who rarely shuts up as the lead in a film comprised exclusively of cell phone footage? It should have been terrible.
But instead it’s one of the smartest and most entertaining films of the fest.
Kelly (Louisa Krause) is a young woman whose entire existence is herself. Friends, boyfriends, family… they’re only around for the attention and favors they can offer. She lives at home but makes a living working as a webcam girl under the moniker King Kelly where anonymous chatroom members can watch, chat and presumably jerk off to her onscreen antics. We first meet her fellating a dildo before moving it southward for its more intended purpose. The onscreen messages go crazy as she goes to town, and the online tips (basically her pay) come pouring in.
They love her, and she thrives on it. More than that, she needs that constant validation. Most of her family and friends are unaware of her alter ego, but she still carries that self centered attitude into her daily life. Even when she’s not masturbating in front of a webcam she’s never truly offline. Between her own iPhone and her best friend’s the camera is always rolling.
King Kelly is much more than a gimmick film. It uses the cell phone camera as a tool in its tale, and the intended overall effect is accomplished in large part to a strong script and a lead performance from Krause that manages both an over-the-top personality and a nuanced pathos. She sells the character’s beauty and tragedy, and while you know she should be America’s worst nightmare you can’t help but be entertained and aroused by, and concerned for her. Viewers will find it difficult to love her at first, but she has a way of growing on you like a loud, manipulative, sexy, and sad fungus.
The script from Mike Roberts is the second key player here in addition to Krause. Between the film’s intended message and the use of iPhones it could easily have relied solely on those two talking points, but Roberts actually provides a strong narrative-driven story that would work just as well as a standard feature. Kelly’s nocturnal adventure, a search for stolen drugs that she was responsible for, sees a mix of hilarious and tragic events that resembles Doug Liman’s John August-scripted Go in the best ways.
You’d expect a cellphone movie to feature some shaky camera work, so it’s no surprise to see some here, but it never reaches the point of annoyance. The image remains sharp and easy on the eyes and never crosses into unwatchable territory.
King Kelly is a film worth seeking out for fans who like social commentary mixed intelligently with entertainment. It’s not the first film to take aim at the self indulgences of modern-day America and the role our online personae play, but it’s one of the more surprising, fun and engaging examples. See it, and once you do be sure to share your thoughts online.
The Upside: Louisa Krause’s fantastic performance makes Kelly as endearing, sad and sexy as she is annoying and obnoxious; very funny at times; strong indictment of American values
The Downside: Kelly may be too unlikeable for some; some of the camerawork is shaky (as expected)
On the Side: King Kelly makes for a great companion film to Bobcat Goldthwait’s equally excellent but far less realistic God Bless America.