J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Creative Control: VR Finally Comes to Brooklyn

Brooklyn is home to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scott Baio, and Deborah “Debbie” Gibson. The borough just isn’t as cool as it thinks it is. That is probably not going to change in the near future. However, the technology of the supposedly edgy new Google Glass competitor a boutique Brooklyn ad agency starts handling is imperceptibly different from that of six months ago. Prepare for some whiny hipsters and naked VR constructs in Benjamin Dickinson’s Creative Control (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

In David’s echo chamber world, even working at an ultra-hip agency like Homunculus constitutes selling out. He hates himself for actually working an office job, but his fragile ego craves recognition. It seems his moment has arrived when he is given creative control of the Augmenta campaign. His first decision to recruit musician-comedian Reggie Watts as their spokesman goes over like gangbusters, because apparently broad based market penetration is not the client’s goal.

In contrast to his career upswing, David’s personal life is in shambles. He barely talks to his self-absorbed ragingly neurotic (even by Park Slope standards) live-in girl-friend Juliette, who occasionally works as a yoga instructor and blames all her failures on him because she might as well. David carries a torch for Sophie, the clueless girlfriend of his cheating dog fashion photographer best bud, but she politely discourages his guarded overtures. As a plan B, David programs a virtual Sophie in his Not-Google Glass, with whom he regularly has hot, sweaty assignations with at a W Hotel. In fact, David sees so much of his programmed Sophie, he starts to have trouble distinguishing her from the genuine article.

Maybe ten years ago, the idea of a man becoming emotionally involved with his virtual reality sex partner would have been edgy, but it is pretty old hat in a world where Joaquin Phoenix had a relatively healthy romance with his operating system. Seriously, is anyone flabbergasted by the idea of anti-social tool using technology for sexual purposes?

Still, there is no reason Creative couldn’t work to some extent if it were executed with wit and style. In fact, it has plenty of the latter, thanks to Adam Newport-Berra’s distinctive black-and-white cinematography. However, the only jokes that land come in a recurring gag regarding the campaign for a prescription anti-anxiety drug, but those bits would not be out of place in an episode of Bosom Buddies. For the most part, its alleged satire of hipster Brooklyn is toothless and its future speculation is behind the times.

Frankly, by casting himself in the lead role, Dickinson becomes his own worst enemy. Whatever the opposite of screen presence might be, he seems to have a lot of it. Nor does it help when Paul Manza, the hippy yoga instructor in Dickinson’s profoundly irritating First Winter turns up as a hippy yoga instructor once again.

With the admittedly lovely black-and-white look and classical music soundtrack, Dickinson is clearly striving for a Kings County analog of Woody Allen’s Manhattan. Unfortunately, he falls far short, even though swapping out the creepy underage relationship for autoerotic VR is definitely a wise trade. Honestly, this film would have been superfluous five years ago. Now it is just self-indulgent and tiresome. Not recommended, Creative Control opens today (3/11) in New York, at the Landmark Sunshine.