Since the release of Grindr in 2009 and subsequently Tinder in 2012, online dating has become a huge facet of modern romance. It’s been reported that the latter now has over 10 million active visitors daily, which begs the question: why haven’t more films cottoned on to online dating? It’s not as if there’s been none at all – You’ve Got Mailback in 1998 was arguably the first – but with some of the most popular romcoms of last year like Crazy Rich Asians and Set It Up hardly mentioning them, it seems as though the genre has some catching up to do.
One director making progress in this area is Michael K. Feinstein with his new comedy The Browsing Effect, an intelligent and nuanced take on the topic that deserves your attention.
Premise and Structure
Following a group of uncertain adults approaching their thirties, The Browsing Effectfocuses on their respective uses of online dating and whether their experiences are better or worse than relationships established through real-life meet-cutes. Among them is the neurotic and nihilistic Ben who has recently been dumped by his girlfriend Rachel, and their friends Melissa and Ben, who are in a relationship that isn’t as healthy as it initially seems. Through various different setups, each of the four ends up coming into contact with the strange and often confusing world of Tinder, with some interesting results.
source: Gravitas Ventures
Though it would be easy for the film to become unbalanced when trying to keep up with each of these plotlines, the pacing and organization of each scene is actually pulled off quite effectively, and you rarely feel as though you’ve been waiting too long to hear from a character. Getting a sense of each individual in the film is also greatly assisted by the use of talking head interview segments, that are funny and insightful while keeping you up to date with the goings on in each subplot.
The Browsing Effect is a movie that would fail spectacularly if the characters weren’t written well, so I was thankful when each of them was nuanced, layered, and genuinely entertaining. None are perfect by any means; you find yourself cringing at their actions as often as you want to cheer them on. But it’s their flaws, from a shallow approach to finding a partner to a self-sabotaging cynicism, that keeps the film going, with each growing conflict revealing a little more about these people and what the tool of online dating has done for them. I wouldn’t necessarily say I had a favourite, but if pressed I would say that Ben had the most satisfying and thoughtful arc, his time on Tinder revealing his faults but also allowing him time to work on them.
source: Gravitas Ventures
The brilliant performances across the board support this premise considerably. Megan Guinan as Melissa, with the face of a young Diane Keaton and the effortless cool of Greta Gerwig, is fantastic as the unambitious slacker type, and lends a fair amount of sympathy to a role that may have come off as annoying with a lesser actress. Josh Margolin is also a standout as Ben, delivering the character’s many one liners with just the right balance of good humour, self-awareness, and quiet desperation. The way the film is shot also allows for these performances to shine, with an impressive amount of scenes (such as a party early on) that are done in a single take, leaving the actors some room to breathe and fully embody the character.
A Magnifying Glass
I must admit – when I first read the premise for The Browsing Effect, I was more than a little concerned about how the subject matter would be handled. I felt as though it would be particularly liable to slipping into (as critic Lindsay Ellis calls it) a ‘thing bad’ attitude that doesn’t genuinely explore both sides of the argument. But I quickly found that this prejudice was unwarranted, and that Feinstein has a fairly compelling take on dating via apps: they’re a neutral tool, and they’re basically just what you make of them.
source: Gravitas Ventures
Sure, this isn’t desperately revolutionary, but it is interesting watching this play out with each character. Has your relationship ended because of your unrelenting pessimism? You’ll probably find the numerous dates you’re expected to go on pointless and doomed to fail. Are you someone entirely concerned with appearances? Then you’ll likely be lured into dating someone who really isn’t right for you. These sound like simple observations, and they are, but it’s this simplicity that keeps the film grounded and true to life, more so than if it was hyperbolic and damning, or overly enraptured with the concept.
Conclusion: The Browsing Effect
Much like a prospective partner’s dating profile on an app like Tinder, The Browsing Effect is a movie that may appear shallow and straightforward at first glance, but that gradually reveals more hidden depths when you make the effort to look in further. As far as rom-coms about online dating go, this is so far one of the best.
What did you think? Was The Browsing Effect a cut above other comedies on the subject? Let me know in the comments!
The Browsing Effect will be released in the US on April 9, 2019.