★★★★ out of 5
Akin to the Prairie that bore the titular tradition, A Social (2022) is an intriguing reflection on sociality, especially feelings of isolation, weirdness and awkwardness.
A Social is an uncomfortable comedy that follows Ross St. Clair, an extroverted yet socially inept vlogger, as he drives around Winnipeg delivering tickets for his parent’s upcoming wedding social.
The film was initially set into motion simply because writer-director Tavis Putnam thought it would be funny to host a social to fund a film. Although the social never came to be, Putnam was still interested in exploring a story centred around the peculiar custom.
Specifically, Putnam wanted to highlight the uncomfortable social codes surrounding socials, pre-wedding fundraisers particular to the Prairies.
“I always thought it was a funny thing … people always wanted you to come to their aunt’s social, but you wouldn’t really want to go, so you would just give them $20 and then not show up,” Putnam says.
A social may be the catalyst for the film’s story, but the character of St. Clair, played by Putnam, is the crux of the film. St. Clair’s continuously in-your-face awkwardness represents an archetype that Putnam has explored before, described as “a person that really needs social validation more than most people but they are really bad at getting it, and it’s just kind of sad.”
St. Clair’s lack of self-awareness allows his interaction to bring to life a cast of characters who all meet his invitations with not-so-graceful responses varying from a lukewarm “maybe” to an equally lukewarm “no.”
Unfortunately, the strength of Putnam’s performance highlights the weakness of some of the side characters St. Clair meets. At moments, the normal characters’ delivery is similar to that of the clearly idiosyncratic St. Clair, and it is unclear to the viewer if this is an intentional choice.
Although St. Clair is evidently a character to be laughed at, he’s given some moments of redemption as he is met with progressively more disaffected individuals. St. Clair’s genuine honesty begins to endear him to the audience and is shown to be a survival strategy in a cold, indifferent environment.
From sparsely furnished homes to the use of black-and-white widescreen, the stylistic decisions made in A Social effectively build upon the theme of loneliness that comes from living in a frozen wasteland. Despite his harsh portrayal of the city, Putnam emphasized that the film is, at its core, “a love letter to Winnipeg.”
As the film comes to a close, A Social reveals the Sisyphean task of trying to get people to come out and be social, especially when one has no social skills. This is coupled with an ending that has St. Clair go out alone, leaving the viewer unsure if his task was a success or failure.
A Social is continuously funny, often painful and sometimes a sincere exploration of relatable awkward social encounters that are so bad you can’t look away.
A Social played at Cinematheque from Oct. 13 to 15
Published in Volume 77, Number 06 of The Uniter (October 20, 2022)