Ethan Berger’s The Line is a fascinating and dark look at a fictional fraternity that offers fantastic performances from its ensemble cast.
During the summer of 2022, Bama Rush was everywhere on social media. Regardless of how many times I would hit “not interested” on my TikTok, every time I opened the app, I saw hundreds of girls taking videos of themselves getting ready, screaming, or crying about rushing, claiming they were desperate to be a part of a new family. While The Line isn’t about teenage girls joining a sorority, this film reminded me of this trend in many ways.
For many, college is a time to reinvent yourself, and the opportunity to be the person you truly want to become in the future. This can be an exciting time, but also scary, since your opportunities are hypothetically endless. Greek life offers a sense of security where you can have guidance about who you should be and how to approach these confusing four years of your life. However, since Greek life has been around for more than 100 years, there are plenty of values that some of these fraternities hold which are problematic. The Line takes a brutal look at how toxic fraternities can be.
The Line focuses on Tom (Alex Wolff, of Hereditary), an excited and passionate member of his fraternity. He is extremely liked by his brothers and is in line to become the next president at the beginning of the following year, with the guidance of the current president, Todd (Lewis Pullman of Top Gun: Maverick). When the semester starts, he meets a classmate named Annabelle (Halle Bailey, of The Little Mermaid) who makes him start to question his loyalty to his fraternity. As Tom’s relationship with Annabelle grows, he takes a leading role in the recruitment and hazing process of this year’s freshman, making him further contemplate if he has made the right choices in his college career.
I went into this film decently blind, only knowing that it was about a fraternity. Since I go to a school where Greek life is not a big part of my university’s identity, I was a bit shell-shocked getting thrown into the toxic hypermasculine culture in which most of this film takes place in. Within the first ten minutes, racist and homophobic jokes were thrown around and the characters did not seem to be acting like anyone that I have interacted with in Greek life before. As you progress in this film, it becomes apparent that this is more of a pitch-black satire of fraternity culture. Daniel Rossen’s wonderful score sounded like something you would hear at a military event, which only confirmed my suspicions.
During The Line, audiences can fully understand the ins and outs of this toxic organization, getting to know numerous members of this fraternity. We mainly focus on Tom who is a rising member, but we also often see his roommate Mitch (Bo Mitchell, of Cobra Kai) and a problematic freshman named Gettys (Austin Abrams, of Do Revenge) who is rushing this frat. With these two characters, especially in comparison to Tom, the audience can see how toxic fraternities can be. Mitch comes from a lot of money and lives on top of the world. Gettys seems to be the first person who knocks him off his high horse which starts to drive him insane almost immediately. Mitch complains about him endlessly, spraying every single insult and profanity he can think of at whatever chance he gets. Worst of all, he doesn’t realize that the only reason why he is even a part of this fraternity is that his family is extremely rich.
Gettys is a lot smarter than Mitch but is absolutely not a better person. He understands that being a part of Greek life gives him easy access to whatever he wants, especially girls and drugs. What makes this character a lot more fascinating to follow is that he seems a lot more modern than all the other men in this film. He doesn’t have any respect for the fraternity’s traditions and takes every opportunity to piss off his fellow brothers during the rush process. Gettys was my favorite part of The Line because it was a challenge to figure out his intentions of staying with the fraternity when it is obvious that he isn’t liked. the film is anchored by an amazing performance by Abrams, and I believe it could have had a lot stronger commentary if we had gotten to know his character more.
In fact, The Line could have been one of the most intriguing films tackling toxic masculinity if it had been more of an ensemble piece. Tom is a great lead, and Wolff gives his best performance since Hereditary, but the film’s main message is a lot stronger when we are not with people who are already in this fraternity. Annabelle is equally as interesting as Gettys, being the only female that we interact with for more than one scene during The Line’s hour and forty-minute runtime. She is only in three or four scenes, but her presence is felt throughout the entirety of the film and has a lasting effect on Tom.
From the first time we see Bailey, the film’s tone shifts from being more of a lighthearted “bro” comedy to more of a dark exploration of why fraternities can be so hurtful. Annabelle never mentions that she is disapproving of Tom’s involvement with Greek life, but Bailey’s authentic performance allows you to feel her energy through the way that she presents herself, which does the job. Similarly to Gettys, if The Line had allowed her to have more screen time, it could have capitalized on how great of an actress Bailey is, and Annabelle could have provided more subtle contradictions to Tom’s way of life.
While The Line is a fascinating exploration of this type of college path, the final act goes a few steps too far. I’m sure that what occurs during the climactic scenes does happen in real life, it felt like much of a stretch for the story that we have been in for over an hour up until that point. Since this act is an unexpected shift, it allows for the warning of toxic fraternity culture to be amplified greatly, but by this point, we are already aware of what The Line’s message is, so it doesn’t add enough to the story.
Regardless of the last act, this film has the perfect balance between interesting and entertaining. The runtime flew by, and there was a healthy mix of comedy, tragedy, and thrills. Even with the slight wasted potential of this great cast, I’m sure audiences will talk about The Line for some time.
The Line premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on June 9, 2023. Read our list of 15 films to watch at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival!