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#HotDocs22 Review: Girl Gang

May 7, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The 2022 Hot Docs Film Festival runs from April 28th to May 8th in Toronto, more information on tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

The documentary Girl Gang opens with images of a packed crowd of young girls waiting for a celebrity appearance at the mall. Security guards try in vain to push them back, warning that girls at the front are fainting, and the event will be cancelled if they don’t make space in the next five minutes. It’s a scene akin to Beatlemania, only these girls are waiting for a totally modern sort of celebrity; a 14-year-old social media influencer named Leonie.

Leonie is a German teenager who lives with her parents Andy and Sani near Berlin, and has gained a massive online following of mostly adolescent girls who aspire to be just like her. Director Susanne Regina Mueres follows this rising Instagram star in her candid and fast-paced film, showing how she is carefully managed by her father and mother, who, in true stage parent fashion, have pinned their own dreams and economic aspirations on their daughter’s enduring popularity.

Mueres shares some onscreen statistics about social media influencers throughout the film, revealing that it’s a job that over eighty percent of youth say they want, but nearly fifty percent of these users have no friends in real life. The seemingly glamorous lifestyles of these influencers is also damaging the self-worth of followers who come to envy them in unhealthy and unrealistic ways, not seeing the reality of what goes on behind the scenes of their carefully staged content.

The director balances out Leonie’s story with that of Melanie, a less privileged teen girl living in Munich who runs a fan account for her, and is desperate for her idol to notice her. Melanie’s story helps save this from what could have been an almost insufferable look at a child star and her stage parents, making Girl Gang a much sadder and more nuanced look at internet culture as a whole.

As the film goes on, Girl Gang starts to show the toll that these live appearances and sponsorship deals are taking on Leonie, and how her online persona is partially a projection of her East German parents, who are still scarred from their own upbringing behind the Berlin Wall. A choral music score by the Berlin Girls Choir offers dramatic accompaniment, and the bookended narration elevates the film to the level of modern fairy tale about the “black mirrors” that kids peer into for validation. Be careful what you wish for, it warns, especially in this still largely uncharted realm of social media influencers.

Screenings:

Sunday, May 1st – 8:00 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 4

Saturday, May 7th – 5:15 PM at Varsity 8

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