Years ago, I worked as an assistant in a summer learning program for children. One rainy day, we had a classroom of restless second graders, and upon hearing for the 27th time in one afternoon that one of the kids was bored, the teacher turned to the complaining student and said “I’m so sorry to hear that. Because only boring people get bored.”
A harsh message for an 8-year-old? Maybe. (Don’t worry, he was unfazed.) But it’s a good lesson for adults, and one that Creative Control co-writer/director/star/Christian Bale-lookalike Benjamin Dickinson should have kept in mind while constructing his film. Ennui is a condition of the privileged, and watching a movie about a bunch of dissatisfied adults in beautiful clothes and expensive apartments make self-destructive decisions to deal with their own boredom gets tiresome no matter how stylish the storytelling is.
It’s particularly unfortunate that Dickinson wanders into this trap because the concept in Creative Control is promising. Ostensibly set in the not-too-distant future, the augmented reality phenomenon is in full swing, and marketing executive David (Dickinson) comes up with a promising pitch for the next big thing in AR. As a result, he gets to try out the product – a pair of glasses that are about ten times better than Google Glass could have dreamed of being.
The creative possibilities of the glasses are endless, but David focuses on using them to create an avatar of Sophie (Alexia Rasmussen), the woman he has a crush on. This is a bit awkward because David has a girlfriend and Sophie is dating Wim (Dan Gill), who I guess is David’s best friend, though “friend” seems like a weird term to apply to two people who seem at best annoyed by and at worst repulsed by each another. David is the only main character with the fancy glasses, but David’s girlfriend (Nora Zehetner) and Wim are on their own searches for escape or meaning or entertainment or whatever the hell you look for when you don’t seem to have to worry about rent or family or student loans. Drugs, alcohol, sex, and even yoga are all mechanisms for “enhancing real life.”
Creative Control would be less disappointing if there weren’t so many glimmers of promise throughout. The creative choices and Adam Newport-Berra’s cinematography in particular make it a visually interesting film to watch. A number of scenes are done in a single take, and it has the effect of anchoring viewers in those scenes more than anything else in the movie does or can. Reggie Watts is pretty much always great and if he’s in your movie, you should use him more than Dickinson does. The elements of the story – reality versus illusion, escapism and the mechanisms for it – could also be fascinating, but it’s hard to care about the themes when you don’t give a shit about any of the people. And that’s the real problem: it’s not that the characters are unlikeable, it’s that they’re not engaging or surprising or interesting. They’re weak and it’s no shock that they’re dissatisfied by all of the things we know are generally not satisfying in any real way.
Despite the missed opportunities in Creative Control, there were enough unique and promising moments that I’d keep an eye out for whatever Benjamin Dickinson does next. But I wouldn’t worry about rushing out to theaters to catch this move. Unless you happen to be the kind of person who loves to watch boring people be bored and you can’t find an 8-year-old kid.