Netflix are doing international film no favours with Airplane Mode, only proving that flimsy American-style rom-com filler can be shot anywhere.
Brazilian-made, but rubbishly dubbed into American English in this version, it follows the tribulations of social media influencer Ana (Larissa Manoela) as she earns what passes for a living promoting a fashion brand. Her whole life, right down to who she dates and how, is carefully choreographed, by the brand as much as by her, but she loves it, if only her parents would get off her back. Then she has another one of her regular prangs while posting at the wheel, and ends up in casualty…
So begins a period of enforced disconnection and an unconvincing voyage of self-discovery. Her phone’s legally confiscated and a judge rules she must live out in the sticks under the supervision of a grandfather she doesn’t know. And if you think it bizarre that a court should be ordering this, then well done, you’ve spotted the source of the only twist in the plot, and it’s not a very good one.
Airplane Mode rarely transcends the banal. All the superficiality of the online life is blandly recreated, without insight or self-knowing humour. Social media is translated to the screen in the usual ways – pop-up comments, emojis, freeze-frame selfies. Gen X squares who just don’t get it are flagged up to us, be it fashion house boss Carola (Katiuscia Canoro) – “I speak fluent Millennial” – or Ana’s platitude-spouting mother (Sílvia Lourenço) – “there’s more to life than liking posts”. The characters are thinly-drawn avatars presented as if they have emotional depth.
And the film proceeds haphazardly, not caring if a plot point doesn’t stack up if they think they can get a scene out of it. There’s a case of mistaken identity at the meeting of grandpa and grand-daughter, even though that they’re at his house and presumably expecting one another. Ana barely knew her grandparents existed, yet a few scenes later she’s creating a fashion brand out of her late grandmother’s back story. A vintage car race, which is built up as a reunion between grandpa Germano and his estranged son, Ana’s Dad, Inácio, gets skipped past without any resolution. As for the central thread, there’s dating ups and downs and a confrontation with the fashion house boss, but nothing you can’t see coming from a long way out.
The dubbing removes what’s left of the film’s soul. It’s hard to see past it to what feels like daytime soap acting. It may be more convincing in the original Portuguese, not that any of them are given anything meaty to get their teeth into. Erasmo Carlos as grandpa is the only one with charisma that survives the Americanisation, even if he flashes some creepy looks Ana’s way at times. In a film that revolves around fashion and image, the Brazilian countryside and grandpa’s freshly renovated jalopy come out of this looking the best.