Television

Share Shows the Wrong Way to Tell Stories About Teens and Technology

The protagonist of a story about social media dehumanization doesn’t seem like enough of a human herself.

Rhianne Barreto walks down a hallway lined with lockers.
Rhianne Barreto in Share.
Josh Johnson/HBO

Earlier this month, HBO aired an extraordinary two-part documentary about teens, technology, and the artificial intimacy the latter can enable, especially among the former. With I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth vs. Michelle Carter, director Erin Lee Carr rejected reductive tabloid headlines about a girl who convinced her boyfriend to kill himself via text message, in pursuit of a fuller picture of the circumstances that led to 18-year-old Conrad Roy’s death by suicide—including his childhood abuse and subsequent depression, as well as Carter’s own struggles with mental health. One of the most surprising factors in Roy’s death turns out to be the idiosyncratic relationship between Roy and Carter, who, despite living about an hour apart, met only a handful of times, choosing instead to exchange texts several times a day. Their tech-assisted relationship allowed the lonely, delusional Carter to imagine their romance to be much more than it was and for her to believe that she knew Roy better than she did. And those beliefs likely played a key role in her encouraging Roy to get back in his carbon monoxide–filled car when he began having second thoughts. I Love You, Now Die convincingly argues that we’ll never really know whom to blame for Roy’s suicide—the details are as messy as they are tragic—but it seems clear that the teens’ romance via text further warped their already skewed worldviews.

Unfortunately, it is precisely that sense of humanity and specificity that’s so glaringly lacking in the new HBO film Share, which debuts on Saturday. Written and directed by Pippa Bianco (and based on her award-winning 2015 short of the same name), the fictional drama admittedly focuses on a very different, and much more common, type of case. In the opening scene, 16-year-old Mandy (newcomer Rhianne Barreto) wakes up face down on her front lawn with no idea how she ended up there. A video soon emerges from the alcohol-soaked night before—footage of her passed out with her pants partially pulled down, a boy pointing and laughing at her uncovered buttocks, with (presumably) another boy filming the mockery. Share follows Mandy as she endeavors to discover what happened to her after she lost consciousness.

The premise is certainly timely. But the featureless Share, which doesn’t seem to take place in any particular region or cultural context, simply doesn’t feel like it’s set in our reality. Bianco seems to want Mandy to be an Everygirl in Anytown, USA, but rather than making its story more universal, Share’s ascetic dismissal of concrete details renders the film alienating, even off-putting. Just about the only thing we know about Mandy’s school life is her place on the girls’ basketball team, but the script fails to consider how its athletic protagonist’s newfound status as a pariah affects her standing among her teammates, let alone her relationship to her body. Though Mandy’s parents (Poorna Jagannathan and J.C. MacKenzie) quickly take charge of the situation by taking her to the police station, their shifting relationship with their daughter, too, feels strikingly devoid of Sturm und Drang. Mandy so rarely veers away from her one-dimensional sadness that her prudence and sensibility start to feel downright uncanny.

Mandy’s isn’t a worst-case scenario. She never entertains thoughts of suicide or vengeance. The video doesn’t seem to go viral at her school, nor does her humiliation become a cause célèbre. (Accordingly, Share is shot in social-realist browns and grays.) And the consequences in Share are pedestrian—social snubbing, a proposed school transfer, uncomfortable encounters about town—and Bianco’s muted, desensationalized presentation is understandable. But because we learn so little about who Mandy is before and after that fateful night, the bad things that befall her feel as if the movie’s running down a checklist of potential outcomes, rather than approaching them as the life-ruining calamities they would probably feel like to a teenager. Share does end on a momentous decision—perhaps the most weighty event of the entire film. But it’s hard to know why Mandy makes the choice that she does and what might happen as a result. She’s as uncluttered as if she were designed by Jony Ives. She’s just as opaque, too.

Other than a few relentless pings in a couple of scenes, Share also declines to portray, let alone explore, what being watched by who knows how many classmates would feel like. The film’s timidity toward grappling with tech isn’t unique: Countless Hollywood stories rely on the sudden failure of cellphones and other communication devices. But for a tale that couldn’t exist without technology, the movie seems startlingly incurious about its ostensible subject. In addition to I Love You, Now Die, films like Eighth Grade and TV shows like American Vandal have proved that fresh and innovative tech-centric teen stories are certainly possible in a variety of genres, especially when writers and directors display genuine interest in how social ties are now mediated through the ubiquity of screens. It’s a storytelling tack that requires a lot more research and imagination on the creators’ part, but the alternative is stale coming-of-age fare that bears increasingly little resemblance to how so many teens come of age today. Share is a cautionary tale—just not for the reasons it thinks it is.