The tale of a teen girl’s search for her dead sister’s cyberbully, #LIKE (available Tuesday on VOD) merges the persistent and perhaps inescapable social angst of Eighth Grade, the second-screen suspense of Searching and … well, that would be telling now, wouldn’t it? For a time, there’s a strong return on the investment in wondering where writer-director Sarah Pirozek will take her film — thanks to an auspicious lead-role debut from Sarah Rich (who arrives with poise and presence to spare) and an early exploration of digital-age grief and hopelessness from people who are far too young to experience either emotion in such acute, agonizing ways.
How unfortunate that #LIKE veers hard, very hard, into shopworn corrosive content that ultimately feels more like posturing than a punchy provocation that could promote a new way of thinking on the topic. Pirozek’s early nuanced, troubling confrontations of gender stereotypes and the power dynamics of online interaction transform into didactic speeches, half-formed subplots and eye-rolling plot twists best suited to the waning minutes of Law & Order: SVU.
Rosie (Rich) has spent the last year since the death of her sister, Amelia, sifting through every possible password to unlock Amelia’s social-media accounts — from which a series of increasingly exploitative encounters escaped into the real world and sent Amelia into a downward spiral. Even now, appalling trolls are slut-shaming Amelia. All Rosie can do is right-click the images into an Evidence folder on her desktop to share with cops that throw up their hands.
But one night Rosie figures out the password, accessing a terrifyingly large list of unwelcome users whom Amelia had blocked. Faking Amelia’s identity, Rosie immediately draws messages from “Andrew U” who shares a lascivious image of Amelia that suggests he’s either the one (or one of many) that pushed Amelia to ruin. His signature phrase is “I double-dog dare you.” He loves loud rock music. Pickup trucks, true. And the day Rosie’s mom leaves town for a work trip, Rosie runs into a man (Marc Menchaca of Ozark and 2020’s Alone) who utters that phrase, blares those tunes, drives a pickup and snaps suspicious photos near young girls at a park.
Convinced he’s “Andrew U,” Rosie escalates her investigation to increasing levels of alarm and aggression. All of this would feel more deeply unnerving if the forcefulness of Rosie’s actions didn’t clang so clumsily against her earlier uncertainties — or if an oft-repeated soundtrack cue did not, quite literally, ask if this was all making us feel uncomfortable. So begins a long 45-minute stretch of table-turning that serves only to put vast distance between the understated intensity of #LIKE’s opening act (in which even Rosie’s interior decorations come to feel like artisanal obsession) and Rosie’s eventual reconciliation with the most rotten aspects of the reality she faces. Rich brings insistent poignancy and power to bookending moments where Rosie confronts society’s wont to thrust young women into predators’ paths, much less so during profane upper hand-gaining rants or flirtations with an older boy.
“It feels like, in a way, we all did (it),” Rosie says of Amelia’s fate at a pivotal juncture, forcing a bittersweet revision on how to read a seemingly innocuous comment in a video her sister left behind. It’s a conclusively thoughtful moment that ultimately brings too little, too late to #LIKE, which more forcefully courts convention than condemnation.