RECOMMENDED: "THIS IS EVERYTHING: GIGI GORGEOUS" ON YOUTUBE RED
The YouTube documentary has become one of the most prolific of all non-fiction film genres, and it's not hard to see why. Digital stars come with massive built-in fan bases, and have channels where they can spend weeks or months generating hype around a new project. YouTubers and social media celebrities already spend their time talking to cameras and developing a voice and a perspective. These people have a big audience, and a desire to create content to sell to that audience, and a documentary feature checks that box.
The problem is that the resulting films rarely generate widespread interest outside of the content creator's core audience. Often, the performers themselves are fairly young, and don't have a ton of "life story" to relate. There are only so many ways - after all - to shoot a meet and greet, or recount the history and development of someone's personal brand online.
So 2-time Academy Award winner Barbara Kopple's look at the life and impact of trans YouTube star Gigi Gorgeous isn't just the best example of a YouTube doc we've seen so far - it's essentially a reinvention the genre. Though I'm certain Gigi's pre-existing fans, who have followed her make-up, beauty and motivational channel since she first started posting (as Gregory Goregeous), will find much to love about the film, it's really designed with a mass audience in mind. Gigi's story transcends the traditional YouTube narrative, folding in insights about grief, sexuality and gender fluidity, and highlights a very compelling, emotional father-son relationship.
As YouTube make-up expert Gregory Goregeous, Canadian teen Greg Lazzarato started working through his feelings about gender and identity, first by exploring a love of make-up and dressing up, later by coming out and openly discussing his homosexuality, and later still by documenting his transition from Greg into Gigi. The film utilizes footage Gigi shot for her YouTube channel and social media streams, supplemented by interview footage shot later by Kopple, and the intimacy is striking. It's a first-person account of someone undergoing not one but two significant life changes all at once: Gigi the person appears at the same moment as Gigi the celebrity persona.
The film's most memorable relationship is the one Gigi shares with her father, self-described old-fashioned conservative David Lazzarato. He's initially uncomfortable with some of his son's choices, leading to some friction between the two, and we follow his journey from doubt and fear to, finally, acceptance. The result is powerful and life-affirming in a way you don't really see coming in a movie about a popular YouTube personality.
"This is Everything" presents a promising direction to YouTube Red, Google's paid $10/month subscription service which offers exclusive content (like this film) along with an ad-free experience and access to the streaming YouTube Music app. Uniting YouTube's native creators with experienced, talented filmmakers, to tackle the kinds of projects that expand the reach of everyone involved, seems like the right combination moving forward.
Title: "This is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous"
Where to Watch: YouTube Red
Runtime: 91 minutes
MORE DOCUMENTARIES ABOUT YOUTUBERS AND DIGITAL STARS
Gigi Gorgeous is certainly not the first breakout cewebrity to get her own feature-length documentary profile. Here are some more online stars who have made the transition to films.
A TRIP TO UNICORN ISLAND: Lilly Singh, known to fans as "Superwoman," stars in this film (also for YouTube Red) documenting her first-ever world tour. (She visited 27 cities in all.) The film features cameos from a ton of other YouTubers, as well as Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, a real life friend of Singh's.
SNERVOUS: This profile of wildly popular vlogger Tyler Oakley also follows him out on a big tour, meeting and interacting with fans. (The title is a combination of "scared" and "nervous.") At its best, the film explores the relationships between Oakley, his mom/impromptu assistant (known as "Queen Jackie") and his diligent friend/manager, Korey. It's available to stream on Hulu.
THE CREATORS: This half-hour short-subject featuring interviews with a number of prominent YouTubers is the work of Nanette Burstein, best known for the Robert Evans doc "The Kid Stays in the Picture." The particular focus here is how digital stars forge such intimate, meaningful, personal relationships with the fans who get to know them exclusively through videos and social media. It's free to watch on YouTube.
VLOGUMENTARY: A feature-length doc specifically about the practice of "vlogging" took over 4 years to film and edit together. It features interviews with a number of prominent vloggers, looking into why anyone would make the decision to share the entirety of their lives with a viewing audience and how doing it has changed their lives (usually for the better), but focuses on Shay Carl and his family, who have come to be known as The Shaytards. It's also available exclusively on YouTube Red.