“There’s a dichotomy. You can’t talk about Wojack and not bring up Pepe, because they go together as the duality of man. The Pepe is like your troll-self, your public persona…then on the other half we have our Wojack. He’s like our private selves, who isn’t like that at all: he’s very depressed, feels inadequate, who can’t fulfill his own goals, who has all these feelings that he can’t manage.”
To say that TFW NO GF is one of the most unique documentary concepts I’ve seen would be an understatement. My pick of the recently released 2020 SXSW free line-up on Amazon Prime Video, it certainly lived up to exactly what I would expect from a documentary covering a very popular facet – even icon – of meme culture. TFW NO GF – That Feel When No Girlfriend, by birth, – does its best to tackle a widely infamous meme known as “Wojack,” and how it represents the massively growing subculture of alienated adolescent men and their anonymous struggles with loneliness, depression, and finding meaning in life. Glasses, Juuls, League of Legends, Halo 3 posters, custom made PCs, toxic Tweets, self-pity tweets, Trump, 4chan, Anonymous, firearms, and even an entire section dedicated to Todd Phillips‘ Joker, this documentary quite efficiently embodies a large portion of your online timeline.
TFW NO GF is composed of a handful of interviews with all-male individuals of its titular target demographic: mixed with b-roll footage, news coverage, tweets, and an expected surplus of hilariously Prince of Zimbabwe memes. There’s an almost compassionate touch to the documentary’s treatment of its displaced subjects, but from a safe broomstick’s length distance. It doesn’t paint them as individuals deserving of your sympathy nor does it single them out and dismiss what they have to say; I’d argue a few of them are even quite fascinating to listen to. Creatively made and presented with an immediate familiarity to fellow connoisseurs of spicy memes, this documentary has more than one finger on the pulse of an entire generation. There’s an untouched goldmine of psychological dissertations and TEDtalks to be had in the subject matter, and I think first time director Alex Lee Moyer presents a very short and genuine effort.
To fully hold any sense of appreciation for this narrative, I would argue it being imperative to have some foothold into the world of memes and the notorious “hacker known as 4chan.” The documentary does a great job at informing it’s audiences, with the majority of presented hot keywords being given their own definition slides, courtesy of “Know Your Meme.” But I wouldn’t call it too outrageous if many uninitiated viewers have troubles following along, primarily the pre-millennial generations. As memes have grown to become their own culture and language, the jargon they communicate through easily coincides with specific trigger words found browsing social media. Terms such as: “R9K,” “blackpilled,” “incel,” “NPC,” “e-girl,” “PC culture,” “Anon,” etc., are all thrown at you in painting this canvas of a society beneath the society you live in. It shouldn’t shock me that meme culture is still, for most intents and purposes, a blind spot for everyone over the age of 30 – the proof simply laying in the average parents asking why you spend hours laughing at badly drawn cartoons, or YouTube compilations that rustle your jimmies. But it never ceases to shock me how isolated this subculture really is, and how difficult it must be to be understood from an outsider that did not grow up within or alongside it. It’s in that same vein that Moyer captures the plight of her technologically savvy largely labeled men.
While there’s no parent in sight during TFW NO GF, it does take moments to showcase the outside societal perspective of these alienated individuals. It’s not perfect, but you can tell the filmmaker and crew cared for the subject matter, something I find essential for documentaries, specifically. I would have appreciated some more logistical statistics and psychological opinions to further amplify the topic, but from my understanding this doc was made on an incredibly low budget. And while we visit roughly four or five different individuals throughout the short runtime, Moyer does not do much to distinguish them from one another. When the topic at hand deals with an entire group of individuals – an entire Internet culture, – it is very easy and very tempting to diminish everything down to labels and sweeping generalisations. The troll, the shit-poster, the school-shooter, terrorist, the white knight, neckbeard, the incel, et cetera: they seem so effortlessly interchangeable in their nihilistic lives and self-loathing. While it’s not an easy task to pull off, I found it difficult to really differentiate and give dedicated stock to each of the men, since they are all so casually presented without introduction or much distinction. Giving them more time to flesh out and bear their souls to the camera would have aided. It would have also been interesting to see aspects and hear thoughts from a slightly more varied assortment, in addition to giving each of them more buildup. YouTuber Idubbbz and his Full Force documentary come to mind as an example of a better focused pacing and development. That starkest criticism I would cast on TFW NO GF, is that it doesn’t really say anything, more so exists as a welcome outlet to those who do not have one – aside from their woefully hilarious tweets and posts.
While it’s easy to label this as “that incel film,” I think doing so without giving it a shot would be a grossly arrogant underassessment. I’ll admit myself that I was thinking incel for the opening minutes of the film, but newcomer director Alex Lee Moyer does an admirable job at expanding off of this very real social dilemma. Her film plays out through a series of interviews with male individuals who all fit the criteria of the titular meme, and while they all easily fit a variety of concerning stereotypes you’d immediately mentally label, there’s some worth in hearing out their two cents. Tackling taboos of living with your parents (something that’s really only frowned upon in the United States), the plight of the first world technologically disenfranchised, and the power of connectivity that the Internet provides for so many alienated, Moyer’s directorial debut presents well researched insight into an often unseen and unheard phenomena. If you’re intrigued by the concept and/or see yourself relating to the meme, I think it’s well worth your time and consideration.
Film Studies/History graduate, using my love and knowledge of the medium to pass as a critic. I’m typically known for longer write-ups, and my eclectic taste ranging from awards darlings, European filmé, indie spirits, cinematic universes, and most notably 80s cult films. Hope you’ve enjoyed your visit, and remember, watch whatever, whenever, with whomever.