Saturday, May 2, 2020

A review of "TFW No GF" by Alex Lee Moyer

Disclaimer: Even though I will do my best to be impartial with my review and thoughts on TFW No GF, I have known all the subjects in the documentary for a few years and have genuine sympathy for them and wish them the best, so there is undoubtedly a positive bias in the way I see this project.

TFW No GF (available on Amazon prime streaming as well as illegal streaming sites that do not require a subscription of Amazon prime) is a documentary that takes a glimpse into five isolated and outsider white males in their late teens and twenties.

Documentary subjects:

The five individuals highlighted in this film are Sean(@zephfyrus), Kyle(@covid19fatality), Kantbot(@KANTBOT20K), Viddy(@viddymalchick), and Charels(@relscd).

Sean is a well put together young adult, whose most obvious distaste with the world around him seems to stem from a lack of meaningful purpose. When the film starts, he is living with his parents and getting into weight-lifting and reading books that Kantbot has recommended to him. While frustrated, he does not seem to be particularly nihilistic or self-destructive, which is a different sort of energy than the other characters in the film.

Kyle is a young Texan who struggles with his isolation and lack of hope with cigarettes and alcohol. He is not shown in a sympathetic or non-sympathetic light, the film choosing to display him in a "take it or leave it" manner which allows him to talk about how he views the world as barren, dirty, and depressing, as well as his cautious optimism for the future. How much of this is the result of internal drives as opposed to his depressing surroundings is not made clear, but this is

Kantbot is the oldest of the group and has a degree in economics, as well as being the most "well-known" of the bunch, running a popular twitter account which had ~20k followers at the time of the filming (2017) and now has ~40k followers and climbing rapidly. Despite the name and purported theme of the film, Kantbot, based in NYC, is not somebody who seems to struggle all that much with an inability to find a girlfriend, but rather talks about philosophy and general ideas in a humorous manner on both his twitter account and his podcast (available on patreon here.)

Viddy and Charels are brothers who reside together in Washington. The children of alcoholics, this film seems to show them more in depth than either Kantbot or Kyle, interspersing shots of home videos which show them as hopeful and energetic kids alongside shots of them currently, where they are living in a dilapidated apartment and spend their free time browsing the internet and taking isolated walks outside.

General format of the film:

While most documentaries set out to prove a point or push an agenda, TFW No GF does not go this route. Alex Lee Moyer does not interject herself into the film at all, there is no non-character narration, and no real questions seem to be asked. Instead of a message, the approximately hour and a half long documentary, cuts between the characters and shows what they are doing on various days, and allows them to talk about whatever it is they want to talk about, which tends to be existential angst or generally negative outlooks.

This is not a film that is trying to cast its subjects as heroes or villains. This is a project that is simply showing these people for who they are, which is generally normal people who just tend to see the world in ways that causes them to be isolated or lonely. Whether their ideas regarding the world are positive or negative, honest or dishonest, delusional or realistic, is up to the viewer to decide.

A general review of the film:

Advertised and marketed as a film about 4chan and its "wojak" meme, the final product is not very honest. None of the characters highlighted are avid 4chan users, but rather are active on twitter. They may post the wojak meme to express themselves, but there is no real reason (outside of generating consumer interest) to associate the film's contents with 4chan or "wojak". Still, this is not a very damning criticism of the movie, as it doesn't insult what is inside the movie but rather criticizes the packaging, which was most likely needed in order to get many people to watch it at all. As anybody who has made anything creative knows, a bit of tactical hype is oftentimes needed. As such, I can't really fault Moyer for hijacking the energy around chans currently seen as "exotic" and "dangerous" by people not familiar with them. The people in chan communities might dislike this film -- which is a fair reaction to being misrepresented and used for attention in a manner which can be fairly described as parasitic, although it is ultimately parasitic in a non-malicious and non-harmful manner.

With that minimally negative critique out of the way, the actual film was not bad at all. While it was not shocking or earth-shattering, it was a fair and honest (albeit fairly shallow) portrayal of individuals I have known for a decent amount of time. The individuals profiled are humanized through the lack of scare-tactics so often used to paint isolated and lonely young men as sex-deprived lunatics, but they are also not shown in a manner which suggests they are harmless weak victims who need to be babied or pitied. Agency is not removed from the characters being filmed, but it is also not heaped upon them in a way that it is dishonest.

This is a "coming of age" film that doesn't show a coming of age or any real character development, but also doesn't show any defeat or collapse. It is more of a snapshot than a story, which might be criticized by others but I personally found refreshing in the era of highly-politicized faux-art which is trying to change the world in some obnoxiously gaudy manner. The ability to pull punches as well as leave things hanging is in short supply with creative works, and Moyer does this well. Whether this was the desired effect of the film is irrelevant, the effect is still there.

Is this film particularly haunting or impactful? Not really. There are no scenes in it which I have found myself coming back to, no quotes which stuck with me and made me think about the world in some new light, and that's kind of the point. The people in this film are too young to have much truly profound perspective, they have not had experiences which are intense enough to force some evolutionary shift in how they proceed about their life. These are normal individuals who are working through problems to varying degrees of success and going on very different life paths. These people are not monsters or freaks or revolutionaries, and that's what makes this an enjoyable viewing.

Besides the immediately edifying aspects of the film, of which there are many if you are thoughtful about what you are watching, I expect this project to age well. All of the individuals involved are still quite young and it remains to be seen where they will end up. In ten to twenty years, when their roles in society are more defined and their accomplishments (or lack of accomplishments) are set in stone, it will be an interesting experience to see their outlook on the world once again, then take the contrast of what we saw in the film. Will Kantbot succeed in his media and creative endeavors? Will Sean be successful in whatever career he ends up choosing? Will Kyle still be heavily drinking and smoking or will he be putting his energy into other avenues? Will Charels and Viddy be sharing an apartment or will they be married and have kids? All this remains to be seen, and for better or worse it will be seen.

Overall, this was an honest portrayal of the individuals in the film, even though the film might have been more compelling on an emotional level if there were less people on screen and more time for personal details that pertained to hopes, dreams, and personal struggles. With all this said, it is nice to see people I know and am fond of get some form of recognition that does not try to demonize them or lionize them for ultimately meaningless political reasons, and that is the main reason I would recommend people curious about "incels" or "internet subcultures" watch TFW No GF.

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