When DRIB first gets going, it is a fairly standard documentary. There is the talking head interview, a knowing narration, and a smattering of news clips. It fits its mold well, offering little in the way of surprises and that seems to be director Kristoffer Borgli’s intention. Borgli is content to rest on the preconceptions of his chosen genre because his preamble isn’t the point of the film.
The penchant for the scenes to pass without really registering isn’t the fault of the performers, rather it often seems that Borgli doesn’t entirely know what to do with this story.
At the film’s center is Amir Asgharnejad, a comedian who fancies himself YouTube’s answer to Andy Kaufman. Amir as a person seems affable and inviting, but his persona is another creature entirely. Amir the performer is your annoying little brother, poking you in the arm and calling it art. Borgli paints a flawed picture of Amir, one in which his own artistic success is left inconclusive. But in much the same way that the film isn’t entirely a documentary, it’s not entirely about Amir either. And that’s where our story truly begins.
As it is told to us, this story is a true one, albeit with fictionalized names. Regardless, Borgli and Amir seem obstinate that the core of this tale of manufactured violence, bombastic ad executives, and a new energy drink is rooted in the real. So, what do they do? They recreate it with actors and a narrative feature’s production, of course.
The recreation of the film is littered with great moments. Mostly it succeeds outside of Amir, who plays himself in the retelling. The film’s antagonist is a corporate creative director played by Brett Gelman. Gelman plays the type of character that he seems to have perfected at this point, a man driven by ego and self-doubt, flirting with insanity. His performance rescues DRIB from its more pedestrian moments, with an unhinged vigor that has a realism that defies understanding. Outside of Gelman, most of the other actors kind of blend into the background, sporadically humorous, but largely forgettable.
The penchant for the scenes to pass without really registering isn’t the fault of the performers, rather it often seems that Borgli doesn’t entirely know what to do with this story. The first-time feature director attempts to merge the mundane with the unbelievable in a way that leaves both kind of flat. Adding to that is the complication that this is simultaneously a documentary, a narrative, and a behind the scenes feature, which may be just too many things for Borgli to deliver effectively.
What Borgli looks to be getting at is an examination of truth and how that gets muddled in our internet culture. He is fascinated, as is Amir, by the prevalence of viral videos and the potential immediacy of celebrity. Amir, as a performer, constantly refers to the nature of his art, but it is hard not to see a man that yearns to be famous. Borgli latches onto this and seems to almost use the making of DRIB as a way to punish Amir for having these hopes. Nevertheless, DRIB often has trouble juggling all of its components in a manner that feels meaningful or relevant.
While DRIB may not succeed on its lofty aspirations, it is often an entertaining film.
It’s not new for a documentary to start out as one thing and then change into something of a meditation on the nature of truth. That’s kind of the problem with DRIB. It’s trying to be something fresh, something unique, but in actuality, it has predecessors that already dealt with this in a far more interesting and well-made fashion. It recalls the Orson Welles’ F for Fake or the more recent Exit Through the Gift Shop, but where those films got to the “truth” of the matter in an interesting and cinematic fashion, DRIB just kind of limps there without conviction.
While DRIB may not succeed on its lofty aspirations, it is often an entertaining film. Amir is likable enough and imbues his largely amateur performance with a vulnerability that makes his character accessible. Borgli has a good eye and is adept at delivering fantastic visuals when he isn’t encumbered by plot or relevance. But as a complete package, DRIB leaves something to be desired. It isn’t as insightful or interesting as it believes itself to be. It stumbles around trying to find a point until it decides that it should probably just end, making for an ending that feels jumbled and far from conclusive. DRIB is just trying too hard to be too many things, never managing to do any of them all that well.
DRIB is just trying too hard to be too many things, never managing to do any of them all that well.