(Canada, 84 min.)
Dir. Fanie Pelletier
Do young people even connect IRL anymore? Bloom leaves one wondering if relationships are purely digital affairs in the age of social media. Director Fanie Pelletier makes her feature debut by tapping into the lives of young people who prefer TikToking to, well, talking. Bloom speaks the language of its young participants by splitting the screen into verticals like the framing favoured by social media apps such as TikTok or the now passé Periscope the teens favour. The film offers pros and cons of social media connection and one’s take probably depends on how plugged-in one is. Regardless of one’s preference for social media, however, Bloom makes clear that these apps directly shape the lives younger generation.
While Bloom doesn’t necessarily tread new terrain, as docs like Cusp have similarly explored the growing pains of adolescence recently, or TikTok…Boom! mined the inexplicable phenomenon behind the video app that has Gen Z kids a-twitter, Pelletier weaves between social media snippets and artful verité that captures rare moments of young people in the wild. She focuses almost exclusively on young women and observes the empowering benefits and devastating consequences of social media.
The Power of Social Networking
Of the former, Bloom illustrates the power of online community. The film, for example, shows how Gen Zers have a wider understanding of sexuality and gender identities thanks to online connections. Two queer girls tell how they forged a romance by meeting online, while another explains how the rabbit holes of social media helped her identify herself as abrosexual. By finding a word to describe her fluid relationship to sexual attraction, she finds confidence in her identity.
Likewise, one young woman uses her platform to share the toxic effects of body image. She demonstrates how one can easily manipulate a photo to create an idealized self. In recognizing the harm and imparting her experience with others, she encourages other women to embrace a diversity of body shapes and sizes.
A Judgment Free Zone
On the other hand, Bloom presents some videos that might have viewers worried. Four friends gathers to group chat on Periscope. They laugh while people post perverted comments about feet—icky fetish stuff that illustrates the potential for online predators. The young women seem aware of the predatory behaviour and laugh it off best they can. But they’re rebuffs are more defensive measures to increase the ‘likes’ and their social reach than to deter pervy behaviour. Similarly, there are oodles of shots of young woman staring into their phones pining for connection. Aspiring influencers offer follows for follows and seek global fans, all the while offering little of substance.
There’s an apt moment early in Bloom, too, that summarizes much of the material that Pelletier mines. One teen tells her live stream that she doesn’t care much for people. She has no friends aside from her boyfriend and that doesn’t really bother her. However, she streams her thoughts day in and day out. Her most important relationship is with her smartphone.
Pelletier refrains from judgment as she presents one series of videos after another, but there’s a hint of sadness to be discerned among the associative editing. As the teens gather via Periscope, they collectively realize that their numbers are going down. As the app flounders, they call out longingly into the void, desperate for anyone to tune in but unsure how to connect outside the stream.
Get Outside, Kids
Bloom ultimately hinges on one’s sense of screen fatigue. Anyone feeling a sense of burnout by the electronic leash of social media might be squirming in their seats watching the seemingly endless stream of video diaries. Watching other people’s phones is an acquired taste. After a while, all the social media mavens seem the same. Everyone gabs about identity and authentic selves into the Internet void of nothingness, searching for validation amid a sea of vapid, self-absorbed behaviour. Pelletier, though, indirectly asks how authentic selves exist in this era of hyper-performativity.
Alternatively, when Bloom puts down the phone and follows the girls outside, it’s a jolt of life. Pelletier has an invigorating cinematic eye and captures the propulsive energy of youth with fluidity and motion. The film’s a refreshing reminder that social media is fine in moderation, but that there’s a whole world offline worth exploring.