My Millennial Life
(Canada, 80 min.)
Dir. Maureen Judge
I often joke that the only perk of having a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s is that I have a matching set of place mats. It’s a sad reality of the job market that higher education isn’t really better for much else than catching renegade spaghetti sauce. There are some variations, but, realistically, work simply doesn’t exist to meet the needs of a growing knowledge-based workforce.
Maureen Judge tackles the plight of the overqualified and the underemployed in the new documentary My Millennial Life. The film offers five portraits of cash-strapped, debt-ridden twentysomethings as they reconcile their dreams of a successful career and the practical realities of the workforce. There’s Meron (20), an Ethiopian-Canadian trying to break into entertainment journalism while working as a chambermaid; Tim (24), an aspiring rocker by night and court testimony transcriber by day; and Emily (24), who lives on her daddy’s dime while going back to college and exploring work opportunities. James (25), on the other hand, is a digital innovator who quit school and developed an app that won NASA’s Space Apps Challenge, yet remains cash poor; and the ironically named Hope (25) works at a dead-end job in a warehouse after five unpaid internships failed to provide her with enough experience for entry-level work in publishing. In this quintet of stories, Judge finds an accurate snapshot of the spectrum of millennial experiences, at least for those from comfortable middle class backgrounds seeking work in arts and media.
The film finds its most productive narratives in the threads with Meron and Hope. Meron doesn’t particularly like cleaning rooms, but she swallows her pride. She, like many young adults these days, simply shrugs with the attitude that says, “It’s a job.” The pay checks keep her afloat as she pursues opportunities, sends résumés off into the void, and lands a freelancing gig at VICE. Her story shows that one can still pursue one’s passions, but not immediately as a full time career.
Hope, on the other hand, openly hates her job and is tired of living in her parents’ home at the age of 25. She writes in her spare time and pursues any lead she finds. Maintaining a steady income, though, allows her to take a gamble and move to Tennessee with her boyfriend. Eventually, through hard work, persistence, and some good luck, she works her way from gig to gig to a full time job.
The sad reality of the workforce, as My Millennial Life shows, is that paid employment is often a luxury when it comes to pursuing one’s dream job. As several of the subjects navigate the revolving doors of internships, they encounter the universality of their struggle: young adults are like American Idol stars for employers. There’s always another one around the corner. The doc shows how some companies exploit job seekers and simply replace one intern with another, removing the need for a slot on the payroll. While paying one’s dues and working for experience, rather than financial compensation, is a longstanding tradition in the workplace, Judge’s film shows how this entry-level challenge becomes trickier in the new work economy.
Emily, for instance, embodies many of the traits of the millennial that often raise eyebrows. Her story also ties in with some of the most frustrating binds of the workplace. Emily’s parents pay her rent allowing her to put money towards concert tickets rather than her student debt, but she’s also smart enough to appreciate the uselessness of her arts degree and opts for the practical skills offered at a local college. She encounters a tempting offer of an unpaid gig at her dream job with Universal Records at the same time she lands a safe, but well-paying ho-hum job. The dilemma is real: does one choose to follow one’s passions or one’s financial needs?
My Millennial Life inadvertently neglects the fact that not all millennials have the same luxuries of choice and support that Emily, in particular, does. As more interns graduate to the struggle of gig-based employment, though, one expects additional stories to echo the five experiences seen here. The candid stories of My Millennial Life are right on target as they collectively portray how the right balance of innovation, practicality, and luck may guide one’s career path, just like an undergraduate degree, folded up like a paper airplane and sent sailing into the wind.
My Millennial Life screens at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema on Thursday, May 26 at 6:15 PM. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion with Maureen Judge and several subjects from the film and the feature will be preceded by the winning film from the 2016 TVO Short Docs Contest.
The film premieres on TVO Docs on May 28 and streams nationally at TVO.org beginning Sunday, May 29.