San Francisco Chronicle
Exploring the perils of internet celebrity
With ‘Mainstream,’ Gia Coppola mixes poignant love story, social media satire
In both of Gia Coppola’s movies — her atmospheric 2013 directorial debut, “Palo Alto,” and her new social media satire, “Mainstream,” in theaters Friday, May 7 — she’s reflected back on the decade she’s just left behind, first her teens and then her 20s.
Coppola, who grew up splitting her time between Los Angeles and the Napa estate of her grandparents Eleanor and Francis Ford Coppola, was just 27 when “Palo Alto” came out and got the film world’s attention. The way the movie’s Northern California teenagers navigate adolescent ennui and tiptoe into adulthood “drew on my own comingofage during high school, which I had more of an appreciation of once I was in my 20s,” Coppola told The Chronicle via video from her Los Angeles home.
“Now, in my 30s, I’m looking back and reflecting on a different kind of comingofage that took place during my 20s.”
The film’s central character, Frankie (played by Maya Hawke), is a budding video artist working a boring bartender job when she meets a mysterious stonerwiseass named Link (played with ampedup intensity by Andrew Garfield). After her videos of Link ranting about consumerism go viral, he becomes an overnight YouTube sensation — and the movie becomes a cautionary tale about how easy it is to abandon your morals when your main concern is chasing likes.
Coppola discussed the film’s influences, the disturbing rise of influencers and getting Garfield to agree to run naked down Hollywood Boulevard.
Q: You’ve made a cautionary tale about the perils of internet fame, but your movie is also a sweet comingofage story about a young woman who falls for the wrong guy. Which idea came first?
A: I think it was pretty tandem. About six years ago, after I made “Palo Alto,” I saw the (1957 Elia Kazan) movie “A Face in the Crowd,” and it was a big aha moment for me. It dealt with bigger issues about tech and ego, and our culture being on a precipice of change, but it’s also just a heartbreaking love story. A young woman abandons her morals to be
At that same time, I had a friend who was representing all these YouTubers (at Maker Studios), and I was fascinated by what she was doing. I was trying to understand what that world was and why millions of people were connecting to it so much. My friend said, “They’re so mainstream, mainstream doesn’t even know it yet.” That got me thinking about what we consider mainstream, and in terms of Frankie, wondering, “How do you fit in as an artist when that’s what we’re valuing as a culture?”
Q: What’s your relationship to social media like? Do you feel the pushpull of wanting exposure but not the obnoxious scrutiny by strangers?
A: Yeah. In life, there’s always the id and the ego that you’re trying to balance. How do you stay grounded in a