Body image and the world of online fame are at the acerbic, biting heart of Viral Beauty, a film written by Elizabeth Lam and directed by David Tyson Lam starring Casey Killoran as Marsha Day, a Staten Island barista and dog walker with decidedly average looks but big dating dreams whose online ad goes viral after catching the eye of gossip blogger extraordinaire Perez Hilton.
At first, Marsha's online fame is a mixed bag of brash bullying and scathing skepticism. However, after that initial relentless wave of cruel to kind commenters Marsha finds herself attracting the attention of talent manager Tara Zhang, who has an eye for the next big thing or, at the very least, the next face for a good 15 minutes of fame.
Armed with her own video entourage and a brand new Youtube channel, Marsha suddenly finds herself in a world where fame is fleeting, fortunes can be quickly made and lost, and where holding on to this sudden fame may mean losing herself.
Viral Beauty is a darkly comical tale, a familiar yet still insightful and entertaining journey through the still fairly new world of internet fame and instant celebrity. In addition to the incredibly familiar Perez Hilton, Viral Beauty features appearances by several other viral names and faces who will likely be familiar to anyone who has spent any length of time perusing through internet gossip rags, celeb sites, or just plain social media.
In other words, most people.
The script by Elizabeth Lam captures the lunacy of this entire world, but also nicely gives us glimpses of the human beings underneath it all. I'm not quite ready to say that Viral Beauty has a heart at its core, but it is rather refreshing that Lam's script avoids caricaturizing a world that could so easily, and is so easily, caricaturized from the internet to reality TV and beyond.
Of course, much of the credit for the film's naturalism also comes from the fine performance by Killoran, who gained 30 pounds for the role but more importantly nails the many nuances of a character who travels quite the journey throughout the film's just under 90-minute running time. Killoran is brash, confident, funny, bold and just an awful lot of fun to watch.
Viral Beauty had a rather lengthy festival run including picking up prizes at IndieFEST Film Awards (Award of Merit, Feature Film) and Las Cruces International Film Festival (Audience Award). After a brief theatrical run in L.A., the film is currently available via indie distributor Indie Rights through all your usual digital/VOD outlets.
With his feature directing debut, David Tyson Lam gives Viral Beauty an energy and zip that works perfectly in bringing to life the fast-paced life of internet fame while lensing by Edna Luise Biesold further enhances the film's sense of immediacy. Kudos also go to Meng-Mei Kuo for the film's fresh original score.
As a film journalist devoted largely to the world of indie films, I can't say that I've never seen a film centered around the world of internet fame and fortune. I can say, however, that Viral Beauty is one of the more entertaining entries while also delving into issues such as body image, confidence, and this incredible world that can be both fascinating and frightening.
Take the time and check Viral Beauty out for yourself!
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic