First it was Dean Cain from 1993 to 1997. Somewhere in the middle of that, Devon Sawa wormed his way in (thank you ‘Casper’ and ‘Now and Then’). You gals (and some guys) know what I’m talkin’ ‘bout. Then around 1996, Leo entered the scene, and we were done. We had found the one. The hair, the eyes, the fact that he was playing Romeo! I mean, hello! These days, a young woman or man’s sexual awakening seems to come courtesy of some YouTube or Instagram "star" who makes anyone more than five years older go, "Who?" In a world where reality shows aren't real and presidents are TV stars, why can’t our idols and role models be talentless teenagers? Let me know if that last line came off as too judgy. I don’t care, I just want to know. Just be prepared to hear the words "yo", "y’all" and "dope" more than you’ve ever heard them before.
In the documentary 'Jawline', filmmaker Liza Mandelup, in her feature-length debut, follows Tennessee teenager Austyn Tester - he’s poor, being raised by a single mother along with his older brother, younger sister and what appears to be an ever-growing clowder of cats - and he was the victim of and witness to domestic violence. But he does have good looks, a phone and shitty internet, and so the dream of fame begins. Austyn’s goal is to become famous and spread positivity, which he does now by waxing philosophical and spouting affirmations daily to his 19k+ followers. When he’s not broadcasting, he’s watching more famous social media stars in an attempt to emulate them, such as when he watches a thousands-strong meet-and-greet by his idols, but when he plans a similar event it’s just him and a half dozen girls walking around the mall buying makeup. Your heart sinks. The reality is harsh, but so is the life he lusts after.
Now meet 21-year-old Michael Weist, the LA-based talent manager who lives in a luxury house full of social media stars where a 45-minute live broadcast is considered hard work, the hallways are piled high with dirty laundry you know no one is going to clean, the residents complain there’s no food in the house, and Michael yelling things like "Bryce, can you post the fucking video please!" is commonplace. Yes, life is tough. Let Michael make it all better with a shopping trip to Rodeo Drive and have a team of masseuses and manicurists meet them back at the house when they’re done. The goals are the same. The lifestyles and the journeys are quiet different.
The stories and characters Mandelup presents here are so layered, you could unpack this for weeks and barely scratch the surface. These people and this film need to be studied and analysed until the end of time, it’s just that fascinating. This is not an Insta-curated film. Mandelup is more than happy to showcase Michael’s fast food-laden desk, or Austyn’s brother Donovan showing the camera where he frequently has to clean up fungus that’s growing through the floor next to the bed he and his brother share - cut to the girls scream-crying from the front row of a tour or being fanned while guzzling a bottle of water to keep from passing out... again. These boys’ lives are contradictory at best. They spread positivity and the importance of being one’s self through fake smiles and perfect hair while Michael tells the camera that "talent is always replaceable." When the video stops streaming and the crowds catch the bus back to their homes, the quiet is almost unbearable, as is the depression that’s slowly but surely creeping in. Yes, the camera is quickly turned on the female masses to hear their take on things, but they’re masking just as much pain as the subject of the "likes".
In a world where reality shows aren't real and presidents are TV stars, why can’t our idols and role models be talentless teenagers?
‘Jawline’ is a three-act Greek tragedy that leaves you unsure where Mandelup sits in the grand scheme of things. Is she trying to unmask the dark illusion that is pseudo-internet fame? Is 'Jawline' a cautionary film? Or is she simply shedding a sliver of light on this 15-minutes-of-fame juggernaut?
Watch ‘Jawline’ from start to finish, then think back to those first two minutes of the film where Austyn is trying desperately and laboriously to capture the perfect photo of himself. Can you still see what’s to come? Is the sparkle still there? Or has the filter been deleted?