Actual People review – Gen-Z ennui played as comedy of modern manners
Kit Zauhar’s debut feature takes a knowingly self-absorbed look at generation TikTok as they negotiate the tricky transition into adulthood
Writer-director-star Kit Zauhar’s debut feature feels like it’s drawing deep on her own experience as a young, biracial woman making tentative attempts “to adult”, to borrow a noun-made-verb coinage popular these days. Zauhar’s protagonist Riley is a final-year philosophy student at a New York City-based university, scheduled to graduate in a matter of weeks. She hasn’t a clue what she’ll do next, but instead of applying for a job or graduate school or even picking up an application for shifts at McDonald’s, she’s throwing herself into partying and hook-ups with random guys.
Partly the problem is heartbreak: it’s not been long since her last long-term boyfriend (Randall Palmer) chucked her for another woman. The scene where they accidentally meet and end up rowing in the street, aggressively enough for passing strangers to offer help on the assumption that he’s being violent to her, is a finely observed micro comedy-drama of modern manners.
But there are lots of factors shaping Riley’s mini-breakdown: fear of an uncertain future, parental pressure, and the common or garden fecklessness of a young woman easily distracted by temptation. How sympathetic viewers will be to Riley, who doesn’t always do the right thing and can be selfish, may be a function of how adjacent one is to the Gen-Z milieu seen here. Either way, it’s quite funny that at one point the most cutting thing a peer can say to her is that she’s “a millennial” in her self-absorption. Ouch.
Clearly made on a microbudget, the end result has cinematic brio and inventively uses TikTok-style fragments of footage to evoke the always-online culture Riley lives in. Zauhar has a forceful screen presence, and she draws out sparky performances from her cast.