Norwegian filmmaker recreates five days inside the rebel space jump.
Norway 2017, 1h 28min
It’s possible you might have seen the video work of Amir Asgharnejad on YouTube. In 2014, the Iranian-born, Norwegian underground stand-up comedian uploaded a hugely popular two minute clip in which he’s seen threatening an oversize Oslo bouncer with a baseball bat. A moment later, the tables are turned and the bouncer knocks Amir out cold with a single, bloody punch.
Amir’s video was the first in a series of subsequent stunts that, in reality (whatever that means anymore), were entirely faked. Amir Asgharnejad is a performance artist, drawing on the tradition of dangerous provocation espoused by his supposedly dead hero, Andy Kaufman. As the videos racked up millions of hits, the mischievous Asgharnejad downplayed the fakery while generating plenty of press coverage from Vice to the BBC.
Yet even Amir was surprised when he was approached by a leading advertising agency and asked to be a pitch man for a leading energy drink. Deciding to play along, Asgharnejad agreed to the offer and was flown out to Los Angeles. Unaware that the videos were a prank, the ad agency floated a fakery of their own: an edgy campaign featuring Asgharnejad’s violent beat down’s which would be withdrawn then leaked to the unsuspecting media. Ironically, after spending a semi-chaotic week in California, the plug was pulled on the bogus marketing plan and Amir was flown home to Norway minus his promised salary.
Despite signing a non-disclosure agreement with the agency, Amir was coaxed to recreate his week in California by Norwegian writer and director Kristoffer Borgli. To avoid legal action, Borgli has renamed the unnamed energy drink, DRIB, which is also the title of this documentary and fiction hybrid, his feature debut. DRIB purports to take us into the corporate universe of commercial branding and public relations manipulation and, by extension, inside the fifty billion dollar a year energy drink industry.
Borgli shoots DRIB in a glossy sheen to mirror his notion of a soulless Hollywood filled with overeager stunt men, gloomy interns and failed film directors. This hyper-stylization can even be heard on the soundtrack. When a character simply enters a room, every footstep is scored with a hip soundscape of electronic bleeps and bloops. Since Amir wasn’t privy to what went on behind the scenes in the failed campaign, Borgli invents these episodes, intercutting documentary outtake footage of Asgharnejad occasionally refusing to stick to the fiction script.
DRIB would be a moderately entertaining diversion if it weren’t for the droll and inventive performance of actor Brett Gelman as the arrogantly insecure ad exec Brady Thompson. The balding and bearded Gelman, who has been an often obnoxious fixture on television, here mines a giddy, douchey obsessiveness that lifts DRIB out of the slick detachment it too often falls into. Anytime Gelman is on-screen, even when he’s only overhead on the telephone with his ingratiating bye-bye, DRIB manages to come alive.
In DRIB’s opening, Borgli saddles with Gelman with a lengthy, ten-minute rant in which he tries to convince his suspicious creative partner (Alexandra Marzella) that Amir’s kamikaze antics are perfect for the young energy drink demographic who aren’t “worried about their longevity anymore. They want to live 100 percent in the right now!” Gelman gleefully expostulates on a number of differing ideas from collapsonomics to gourmcore then wraps up his hypnotic rhetoric by comparing the DRIB drink to “a punk version of the rebel space jump.” On paper, this monologue might have seemed wordy and glib but Gelman infuses the dialogue with such ludicrous enthusiasm, we vainly hope DRIB will manage to maintain this energy for its remaining eighty minutes.
By DRIB’s end, we are left to wonder if Amir’s five days in the belly of the advertising beast might have been better served as a short rather than a feature film. On the voice-over, director Borgli offers up the enticing notion that the amiable Asgharnejad was intent on hijacking DRIB away from the filmmaker during the shoot. But apart from a few spoiled takes, there is very little evidence of this. Instead, a long time in DRIB’s is spent on a meandering sub-plot involving a troubled intern (Annie Hamilton) attempting to score some ambien for Amir. A promising narrative strand, following disfigured actor Adam Pearson making an anti-bullying ad for a skin care company, eventually fizzles out into nothing.
Ultimately, DRIB would have benefited from some doc or dramatic recreations of the dark corporate forces that allegedly targeted the film after production was completed. This extra layer of understanding might have helped illuminate the litigious methods powerful companies utilize to silence artists like Borgli and Asgharnejad. Bearing this in mind, we are left to wonder if the events in DRIB actually occurred or are possibly just an elaborate hoax dreamed up by the actor and director. A fake documentary focusing on a fake ad campaign, centered on a fake energy drink and starring an illustrious maker of faked videos? Sounds plausible enough.