Welcome to Trey Segal’s world: a soulless maelstrom of pornography, traffic jams, SUVs, support groups, and billboards promising happiness through consumption. No, it’s not the latest Chuck Palahniuk novel (Fight Club, Survivor, etc), it’s the Silicon Valley circa 1999. And in case you’ve been living in Middle Earth for the past six years, this particular place at this particular moment was the place to be if you were young and eager and knew a thing or two about the Internet. It was the peak of Dot Com mania. “Want” is the rather disturbing tale of just one casualty from this era, for there were indeed many. Written and directed by Michael Wohl, the film is an often unique and challenging experience. Unfortunately though, Wohl’s dark vision ultimately crumbles under its own weight and obsessions, much like the young hopeful at the heart of its downward spiral.
Barry Alan Levine, a beefed-up Dustin Diamond clone, turns in a solid performance as the disturbed computer engineer Trey Segal. Trey, along with his buddy Ben (director Wohl himself), not to mention everyone else in the Valley, dreams of making millions as an Internet impresario. Catch #1: he lacks a killer idea. The best he can do is fire off half-baked ideas like Milk and Cookies Dot Com, Highway Chat Dot Com, and Support Groups Dot Com. Not exactly Netflix-quality ideas. Catch #2: he’s got some serious social issues, probably as a result of an abnormal fixation with all things porn. He kind of digs his coworker Dana (Gillian Chadsey), but his awkward attempts at being sweet only creep her out. His porn addiction eventually becomes so bad that he can’t even look at a female without seeing lurid flashes of her splayed out and soiled by the monster within. And Catch #3: his dad’s a homeless drunk and his mom’s an idiotic sitcom character. Trey’s world is falling apart and the only person he can turn to is his best friend, a fellow hopeful who’s having great success with his own idea. It’s a videogame that involves kids using real guns.
“Want” is a devastating, dreary, and utterly damning vision of the American dream. In this world, sex is reduced to the shameful, self-hating act of masturbating to images of underage girls. Hopes always come to naught in the end. Parents are worthless and “friends” are just as f****d up as you are. But hey, wouldn’t you look great in that new SUV?!? And boy, don’t you think our bank is the right place for all that cash?
I applaud Wohl for tackling such challenging material. His nightmare is no crowd-pleaser, but it’s crafted with assurance and panache, which earn it a right to be told. Unfortunately though, Wohl’s intriguing buildup is almost too much so, and the rest of the film can only struggle to extract some kind of meaning in all these burdensome themes. Instead, we are subjected to Trey’s slow, hard burnout. His pain and suffering are truly palpable as a result of Levine’s surprising, tricky performance. But come on, watching “The Passion of the Christ” was more fun than this. Wohl’s characterizations don’t help matters either. Aside from Trey and maybe Chadsey in dual performance, the rest of the cast is stuck playing caricatures rather than believable people. To Wohl, the supporting players (Trey’s parents, boss, associates, etc.) are nothing more than convenient plot devices. No, Wohl’s nascent talents lie not in writing people, but in chronicling the despairs of the modern world in fascinating ways. “Want” certainly looks and sounds great, thanks in part to the fine work of production designers Peter Cavallero and Amy Sippos and sound designers Jeff Darby and Dave Nelson. And any film that finds a place for Radiohead’s impossibly strange anti-song “Kid A” earns high marks in my book.