L.E. Staiman’s Love Virtually threatens us with an absurd romantic comedy set in the Metaverse that can’t be taken seriously, but it sure gets close to it.
The universe of Love Virtually takes a little bit to get acquainted with. Before you have enough time to process how to feel about it, you get thrown into the Metaverse of the universe of Love Virtually, where you can date AI avatars, and virtual girls are begging for virtual money on the virtual streets. Now, you tell me, what has our world come to?
L.E. Staiman’s Metaverse rom-com centers itself around four couples, each with their own colorful bundle of relationship issues, and their journeys of finding love and true connection in a world overindulging in connection. The characters inhabit a world where their true physical existence and their existence inside a VR headset take up equal parts of their day-to-day lives, and it results in a story just as messy and ridiculous as you would expect it to be.
A large part of the film’s duration is occupied by 3D animation sequences blended together with live action to create the feeling that the VR avatars are simply extensions of the characters, and I would say that goal was successfully accomplished. Then again, you don’t quite get the chance to experience any character-avatar dissociation because your mind would be trying to make sense of everything else.
Staiman’s directorial debut film commits to its paradoxical, retro-futuristic world-building. It takes elements from different eras of the Internet and social media culture — 9GAG-style memes from the early 2010s, outdated web interfaces, VR and cryptocurrency trends of the 2020s — and splashes them together in a universe that feels like a shuffled remix of ours. It felt familiar yet unique.
At the same time, Love Virtually misses the chance to explain the inner workings of its virtual world. As a viewer, you quickly realize you just have to accept the things that happen and try your best to enjoy the ride regardless. There’s heaps of randomness thrown at you, terminology with familiar words spread throughout that don’t make much sense when put together. When you don’t know what’s going on or why, and you realize it’s pointless to hope you’ll ever find out, you begin to slowly lose interest in following along.
With four parallel stories going on, the film itself feels unsure whether it has a leading plotline, but Roddy Danger, a socially awkward gamer obsessed with his girlfriend, feels like he leads the pack of confusing characters forward. Peter Gilroy holds the film’s heart in his performance as Roddy, which stands out as painfully human amidst the clumsy caricatures.
Without spoiling anything, I must say the third act of Love Virtually feels like it tries to sell a more dramatized version of its narrative than what it needed to be, as the over-the-top editing and intense music make artificial attempts to raise the stakes and provoke an emotional response that isn’t earned.
As with any movie that considers itself satire, watching this prompts uncomfortably relevant questions. It’s a shortcut to a conversation about our rotten social lives in the digital age and how much we don’t want to end up like Roddy and company.
Love Virtually had the potential to execute its ideas better, land its jokes deeper, and flesh out its world clearer, but it ultimately struggles to carry out its ambitious premise. While I do understand that the premise is not meant to be taken seriously, which is why the low-cost animation didn’t need to be more than it is, it would have required more attention to detail than what we got if it had wanted to land any impact on an audience beyond its short runtime.
Love Virtually will be available to watch on digital and on demand from November 7, 2023.