Film Reviews

Review: ‘The Pickup Game’

Hot Docs 2019


The Pickup Game
(UK/Canada, 96 min.)
Dir.: Barnaby O’Connor, Matthew O’Connor
Programme: Making Believe (World Premiere)

The pickup industry generates over a billion dollars a year teaching men how to “seduce” women with manipulation tactics. But despite The Pickup Game being intended as an exposé on the industry and its culture, little is revealed, or analyzed.

Well known for its misogyny, the industry in The Pickup Game is infuriatingly depicted in a rather apolitical manner. The film dwells on the pickup artists and their opinions with little pushback. These men (and one woman) are given a space to speak their opinions on women, dating, and sex, expressing how pickup tactics really do work. There is no explicit challenge to this. Instead, the monologues and interviews are presented blankly, as if the sheer ridiculousness is enough to inform a viewer. I would argue that it is not enough, as evidenced by the fact that these people, and their billion-dollar-generating followers, buy into this flagrant disrespect of women.

Surprisingly, given the amount of feminist critique of pickup artistry, The Pickup Game focuses largely on men: how the industry exploits men, takes their money, and plays off their insecurities. It is only about an hour in that the first instances of a feminist challenge come up, in the form of a protest of a pickup artist who sexually assaulted a number of women on camera, but this soon turns sour. Near its end, the film does finally look to the issue of rape and consent in the pickup community, but the critique is too little, too late, especially considering that the film is concluded soon after by showing an ex-pickup artist playing with his cats. The documentary goes from the gruesome reality of sexual violence and manipulation, to the cozy home of an innocuous man, as though he did not also spew the misogyny that inspired future generations of pickup artists.

In a 1988 episode of the Oprah Show, Oprah Winfrey hosted a group of white supremacist skinheads to discuss their politics in order to publicly challenge them. Years later, Winfrey would recall the episode, stating: “I realized in that moment that I was doing more to empower them than I was to expose them.” Despite the original thought that the episode would be a method of revealing the absurdity of racism, Winfrey realised that she was ultimately giving white supremacists a stage upon which to preach. This is what comes to mind when watching The Pickup Game. Without an active critique, the film has little power to expose. Instead, it offers a platform for future pickup artists.

The Pickup Game screens:
-Tues, Apr. 30 at 8:45 PM at TIFF Lightbox
-Wed, May 1 at 10:15 AM at TIFF Lightbox
-Sat, May 4 at 3:15 PM at Isabel Bader

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