What looks cutesy-smarmy during the pre-credit sequence that jump-starts “Friended to Death,” DC-native Sarah Smick’s feature film debut, will eventually reveal a sly, yet extremely energetic, wink at the dark side of our increasingly intrusive social media state of dependency. Apparently, when opportunity (or the semblance of it) strikes, in the guise of a male mustachioed corpse and a Latino cleaning lady, we’re just attending our first class in Gotcha and TMI Facebook Updating. The presumably dead body, clutching a 50-dollar bill in one hand and an empty medicine bottle in the other, has a trickle of white pills on his shirt (in an arrangement that reminded me of the constellation Orion), with a suicide note nearby, and an iPod and MacBook that are too conspicuous for any non-brassiered woman to ignore.
Appropriately set in self-infatuated Los Angeles, the film centers around the loutish, thirty-something Michael Harris (Ryan Hansen, of “Veronica Mars” and the short-lived CBS series “Bad Teacher”). He’s a hard-(bicycle)-riding parking enforcement officer who lives for the put-down and the post-up of what he considers bad taste (including a tuna sandwich he half-regurgitates). And while his obnoxious, off-color character thinks he’s prime friend material, his few acquaintances and co-workers think he’s a self-involved douche bag mess of a mensch. Many of us always marvel about law enforcement’s inane ability to issue violation tickets seconds after (or just before) our meter expires, and people like Michael are the reason why. So when he posts one of his ticketed conquests to the web, his gruff stickler-for-detail boss (Bobby Ray Shafer) cans him for invasion of privacy. At least one other entrapped subject of his voracious work ethic will haunt him later in the film, but, for now, his bad day turns worse when his BFF Joel (Zach McGowan) “forgets” to invite Michael to his birthday party. Burned and ditched.
The film and Michael’s ego moves into higher gear when the wounded loner fakes his own death in order to see who will attend his funeral. Pseudocide may be painless, but it’s not easy to pull off, even if Michael has new straw man Emile Lewis (James Immekus), a feeble ex-coworker, as a subservient partner in the outlandish crime. While the guilt-ridden Joel is content to mourn in his own way, his current roommate is a smug, conspiracy-infused nut named Kev (Ian Michaels, who also co-wrote and co-produced), unconvinced of Michael’s demise and ever on the lookout for evidence to shove in Joel’s tear-drenched face. There’s also a mysterious blonde woman, often adorned with a head scarf and dark sunglasses (even in the middle of the night), with an inkling for revenge and a hankering for justice—or, at least $12,322, in cash. Yes, that’s director Smick behind those shades.
The script by Smick and Michaels has a knack for finding just the right touch of dialogue between the socially obsessive Michael and his new best bro Emile. About social media sites: “They’re the great networking tool since the phonebook.” And while you might laugh, there is some truth to that claim. I consider it one of the best implements in my genealogist’s tool bag. Great way to keep in touch with your family. Great way to find family—I once used Facebook to connect two women who had no idea they were half-sisters.
The film’s last 20 minutes offer some frantic moments as drunken friends and imbecilic leeches align in verbal battle. The ending, with a year-later coda may come off a bit too contrived, but the film, as a whole, has a genuine goofy charm and a nice array of offbeat characters.
“Friended to Death” would be a hard sell for the vast majority of today’s audiences, who are faced with too many films and too little time. (Hence the reason I see multi-tasking idiots firing up smartphones in the middle of screenings to tweet a LOL or post a WTF.) Today’s viewers are attracted to heroes and gangsters and romance and monsters and 3-D IMAX and big stars. Those seat-huggers spend billions of dollars for their movie fix. As for this small indie bromance film, currently in theaters and playing off in the vast VOD wasteland, you might gather your internet chums for a good dark chuckle. Maybe show the film and have a contest to guess on how many moronically stupid status updates you spotted.