ABOUT five minutes into #RealityHigh you can second-guess every direction the film will take in the next hour and a half. Yes, it is that predictable.
As joyless as a ferry journey across the Irish Sea in a full blown storm, this Netflix Original can best be described as a vapid waste of time. Certainly, the only originality can be found in the film’s title.
For those who are still with me, Dani Barnes (Nesta Cooper) is an academically gifted high-school student looking to earn a scholarship at highly-regarded university UC Davis. The clichéd ‘secretly beautiful’ nerd and outcast keeps off social media and spends her free time volunteering at the local veterinary practice.
Dani’s biggest distraction from work comes in the form of long-term crush and ‘future Michael Phelps’ Cameron (Keith Powers). Yet, much to Dani’s quiet frustration, Cameron is part of a power-couple with her antithesis – social media star and high-school mean girl Alexa (Alicia Sanz).
One day, Alexa shockingly breaks up with Cameron for YouTuber ‘Fousey’ (Yousef Erakat plays himself in a nauseating cameo we will get back to shortly). This leaves the path free for Dani, now donning make-up and a new wardrobe, to finally get together with Cameron in a relationship that will later spark a spiteful revenge plan from Alexia.
As the title suggests, #RealityHigh pushes social media, modern technology and our image-obsessed culture to the forefront of the movie’s narrative and visual style. The students are constantly snapping pics, talking about the ‘gram (short for Instagram) or live streaming.
When gossip spreads, it does so in express fashion. We see text messages popping up on the screen as the camera moves down the corridor. Yet, for all this (and it has some potential), we never dig below these shiny surfaces to explore anything remotely genuine or engaging.
These good-looking teens, all of whom look – and are – much older than their parts, live relatively uncomplicated and lavish lives. After witnessing Cameron’s excessive pool party, it is even harder to feel much sympathy for these Cali kids. In fact, Cameron’s dad goes as far as undermining the whole movie by bluntly saying: ‘first loves don’t mean shit.’ So why should we care about Dani’s love for Cameron?
Not to worry, everything falls neatly into place by the end of the movie – not that it was ever in doubt.
#RealityHigh also hosts a number of uninteresting auxiliary characters that feel lazily put together. Like Dani’s best friend Freddie (Jake Borelli), who unsurprisingly starts to feel neglected once Dani dates Cameron – a trope I experienced all too recently in slightly less flawed high-school flick The Outcasts. Or class buffoon, Broussard (Peter Gilroy), who sniffs magic markers and draws penises for cheap laughs.
Worst of all are the unsubtly pandering cameos from Erakat and rapper Kid Ink. Erakat’s 20-second appearance sticks out as a cheap marketing ploy. An undermining decision that is especially baffling given the movie acknowledges his audience are primarily 8-12 year olds, like Dani’s younger sister, and therefore most likely too young for this 15-rated movie.
That is not to mention the slightly ill-thought out idea of a 27-year-old social media star, who boasts influence over 12.7 million followers, dating a high-schooler. Bizarre stuff.
Ultimately, #RealityHigh goes through the motions with little attempt at originality. This dull and transparent affair left me feeling hollow. Not a scratch on high-school tales such as Clueless, Dazed and Confused, Election, The Breakfast Club and, more recently, The Duff and Easy A.
There is no doubt in my mind. #RealityHigh is one to #AvoidAtAllCosts.
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