'Share' Is A Fiercely Intelligent Story Of Assault & Blame In The Social Media Age [Sundance Review]

No good news ever follows a text that reads, “you ok?” Mandy (Rhianne Barreto) gets that text a couple of days after a late night she can’t explain; she woke up on her lawn, her mind a blank, and subsequently discovered bruises on her arm and back. She throws up a little the next day, but puts on a happy face for her friends. And then her phone starts blowing up.

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Mandy’s story is told, and well, by writer/director Pippa Bianco in “Share,” an uncommonly knotty and fiercely intelligent story of assault and blame in the social media age. The “you ok?” text comes because a video and some pictures are circulating, taken during Mandy’s blackout (“u need to see it,” her friend texts, “it’s bad”). They give her a corner of the puzzle of that evening. She spends the rest of the film trying to piece together what happened – and who, if anyone, she can trust to tell her.

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Among its many achievements, ‘Share’ uncomfortably captures the specific end-of-the-world misery of high school scandal, and the way that those highly populated spaces can somehow feel like the loneliest in the world. When Mandy’s parents discover the circulating images and video, and (over her objections) bring them to the attention of school administration, she’s victimized further: made to feel like an outsider, sent home from school (so she’s not “a distraction”), blamed for the frankly inadequate consequences visited upon those involved.

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Bianco crafts her script as a series of short, often impressionistic scenes, parachuting into conversations late and sneaking out early. It’s filled with hang-out scenes that feel like eavesdropping, both in the ease of dialogue and the messiness of the razor-sharp sound design; she has a terrific ear for the din of these environments, which somehow doesn’t subvert the quiet and stillness at the picture’s center.

Her supporting characters are well-drawn – particularly Mandy’s parents, who are scared and protective but not villainous, or even (all things considered) overbearing. Among the actors cast as Mandy’s school crew, “Lean on Pete” star Charlie Plummer stands out with a complicated portrait of residual guilt.

But this is Barreto’s show. It’s a wonderfully understated performance, as a character most striking in her normalcy – she’s very average, a typical 16-year-old who likes to play ball and hang out with her friends and party a little (and here Bianco dives insightfully into the age-old conundrum of the “perfect victim”). Mandy basically just wants this whole ugly business to go away. It is not, of course, that easy.

Because Bianco is working so close to the ground, Barreto doesn’t get the kind of Big Acting Moments we might expect from this kind of story; there are no shouting confrontations or sobbing breakdowns. Instead, Barreto focuses on small character touches. The way she stands at the top of her stairs, gathering her courage for the first day back at school. How she stares at the floor when she returns to the scene of the crime. The way she lets her thumb hover over the video clip on her phone before pressing play again. And, most heartbreakingly, the way she smiles and says “I’m ok,” and you almost believe her. You want to believe her. [A]

Check out all our coverage from the 2019 Sundance Film Festival here.