Calling any TV show or film ‘millennial’ has often been lazy shorthand for ‘about entitled people who use their phones and have roommates’ – this film goes deeper
The experience of people now in their late 20s slash early 30s, those loosely, often inaccurately (and usually derogatorily) defined as millennials, is one that’s been misrepresented across all types of media. It’s always going to be impossible to capture the exact feeling of every single person in that age range, across countries, backgrounds, and demographics, but the least we can ask for is that somebody tries.
Which is where new Netflix film Someone Great steps in: to actually try to fill in the holes left by other “millennial”-oriented films and TV shows. Someone Great, directed by Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, starring Brittany Snow, DeWanda Wise and Jane the Virgin’s Gina Rodriguez, follows a woman (Rodriguez) as she breaks up with her boyfriend to move across the country for a job with Rolling Stone. The film examines her heartbreak through perfectly-soundtracked flashbacks as music and places remind her of times with her ex. It also shows her navigating the run-up to her big move to San Francisco with her two best friends (Snow and Wise), who revisit their youth with some molly and a festival.
“Someone Great doesn’t rely on tired tropes of millennial floundering and incompetence, but it does capture the very particular frustrations that do make it harder for us to grow up”
The millennial experience is so difficult to represent because it teeters so awkwardly between childhood and adulthood. It’s a cliché that’s been used to malign us, but it’s also one that isn’t necessarily our fault; with little financial security, we cannot aspire to the things that made our parents adults, like real homes. But we still have to work and move out. We still have to attempt to be real adults while having no security of our own, and as such, we experience burnout that forces us to want to curl up in our comfortable past.
It’s in this awkward liminal space that the central characters in Someone Great sit. Jenny is an accomplished writer and editor, but without any real security. Erin (Wise) is floundering, struggling to commit to her girlfriend. Friend Blair (Snow) seems like a Real Adult, but is held back by her life and longs to let loose. Someone Great doesn’t rely on tired tropes of millennial floundering and incompetence, but it does capture the very particular frustrations that do make it harder for us to grow up.
Where the girls unite is in one last party, not for their lives, but all together. “Adults” shown partying on-screen are often portrayed as sad and pathetic, like in Knocked Up. In these films, the doorman tends to point out that they’re old, and they lament that they even tried. We see Jenny, Blair and Erin heading to a festival they used to go to together; they get dressed up, they dance, they fight, they take drugs, they have revelations by a fountain. Their partying isn’t represented as lame, just as something they miss doing together. Robinson told Refinery29 that she chose to show the girls partying to break convention, because “when we see women on screen who are a little outside that box, you get eyebrows raised, and you get people upset about that”.
As millennials age, so does the media that attempts to represent them. That means that the characters in Someone Great actually go to work. The jobs that Jenny and Blair do as writers and social media managers are often synonymous with what it’s like to have Millennials in the Workplace, as commented on by a wildly disparaging New York Times article in 2016. These offices have been represented as kitschy, full of ping pong tables and free beers, as in Broad City and Gilmore Girls. This isn’t always a million miles from the truth, but feels more indebted to Nathan Barley, the writers mocking the offices many of us now have to work in, as if any of us wanted pool tables over good salaries. Blair discusses her job in depth, going over “hashtag rollouts” and other things that sound ridiculous but actually happen. Her office is portrayed as boring, normal even – miles away from the hyper-colourful, Swegway-filled world we might imagine.
Over the years, Jenny’s job of journalist has been shown on-screen in various iterations and with various levels of mangling. Even in the “millennial” media, away from the ridiculousness of Carrie surviving on one column in Sex and the City, it’s a laughable representation. In Girls and Gilmore Girls, privileged and entitled writers still manage to sustain themselves if not financially then in reputation from one singular article. Jenny does have the dream – a well-paid staff job with an advance – but it’s hard-earned. Chasing it leaves her friendless and boyfriendless in a new city, her work having consumed her every waking thought. The industry nods, too, of the three girls hitting up their every single contact for festival wristbands before being lumped with General Admission, too, is pretty realistic – it’s niche, but it hits the nail on the head for a very specific subsect of insufferable people, and isn’t that the goal?
The girls’ friendship is at the core of the film, and in this sense, it’s not unique. But its handling of that friendship is; when Blair sleeps with an ex-fling of Jenny’s, the root of major drama in a lazier film, they laugh it off. The girls do fight, but mostly in an effort to help one another to grow up and come out of their shells. Jenny’s struggles are not posited as more important than theirs; Blair’s efforts to commit to her girlfriend form a queer side plot that isn’t sidelined, which feels very new. Erin’s own breakup, from a long-term boyfriend she’s bored of, is easy but not background noise.
“The film itself was even named after an LCD Soundsystem song, a millennial anthem wracked with longing that the director has said she loves”
Throughout the film, Jenny is forced to revisit her relationship with Nate (Lakeith Stanfield) through musical cues that hit her like a ton of bricks. The much-praised soundtrack includes Lorde’s “Supercut”, Lizzo, Mitski, and even Vampire Weekend. They are as much a part of the film as the stellar cast, which was very much intentional on the part of the director, who kept a 500-song Spotify playlist in preparation for the film. The film itself was even named after an LCD Soundsystem song, a millennial anthem wracked with longing that the director has said she loves.
Calling any TV show or film “millennial” has often been lazy shorthand for “about entitled people who use their phones and have roommates”. Other films and shows have done a good job of representing some of the realities, but many fall short. Of course Someone Great, too, has its downfalls, like Jenny writing a poorly-written unsent letter to her ex-boyfriend out loud. But what we need to bear in mind, maybe, is that there is never going to be a “perfect” millennial show, because we all have our own experiences and personal neuroses that we want to see represented on-screen. But a nuanced, perfectly-soundtracked comedy about heartbreak and friendship that shows a queer relationship as a secondary romantic plot to the straight break-up is a pretty great offering to the canon.