‘People People’ provides look into agoraphobia in digital age

Lizzie Logan provides us with a new-age love story between YouTuber Kat and her delivery guy Colin, with a sobering look into loving someone with a mental illness.

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Let’s get one thing straight: It is very difficult to get me to like any film where love is the main thing driving the plot. Romantic comedies are entirely lost on me. This is largely due to the unrealistic meet-cutes and the cheesy way everyone has the right words for every situation. This made "People People" a welcome surprise.

Our protagonist is a frighteningly realistic portrayal of a rising social media influencer. Anyone who watches YouTube is familiar with the overly charismatic voice begging them at the end of every video to “Comment and Subscribe!” or “Hit that little like button down below!” YouTube vlogger Kat (Natalie Walker) presents her perfectly filtered life to the world from her laptop drowning in stickers. To her followers, she is delightfully witty, answering fan questions with extreme candor and what can only be described as “hot takes.”

As the romantic plotline comes into play, we see Kat fall in love with her local diner’s delivery guy, Colin, in an incredibly modern way, complete with weird “Would You Rather” questions and drunk Wii competitions. Sparks are flying, and we immediately root for them as a couple. The first time he asks out Kat, the two stammer and miscommunicate their way through a confession of feelings. We feel this love story blossom in the way a fawn learns to walk: falling over itself with pitiable determination.

After a bit of spiraling, Kat reveals the truth: she has not left the apartment in two years. The audience falls still. While the word “agoraphobia” is never said on screen, we are suddenly clear of what Kat is suffering from.

In a perfect rom-com, her new beau would have the right words to say and would act as her persistent shoulder to cry on. But "People People" is not a perfect rom-com. Colin has zero tact in this conversation, with no clue how to respond to her situation. He finds Kat’s condition a little weird and isn’t afraid to say so. Noticing her panic attack in the wake of his apprehension, he appears to put his confusion aside and try to help.

There is something beautiful about Colin and Kat’s dynamic-- two young people with no way of finding the right reaction but still having earnest intention. It breaks down the typical saturated and perfectly scripted trope of romantic film. Colin isn’t our Prince Charming by any stretch of the imagination. Even as he continues to accommodate Kat and spend time with her in the apartment, his patience wears thin and he eventually gives her an ultimatum between her illness and his love.

Here is where we could start to dislike Colin. “That’s not fair!” we may cry at the screen. The moment is problematic but hyper-realistic. Not everyone is a therapist. When loving someone with a mental illness, you can feel frustrated, at wit’s end, or say things you don’t mean. There is nothing to make us doubt Colin’s appreciation for Kat, but we understand now that he is not exactly blind to his own discomfort either.

In her post-screening Q&A, director and writer Lizzie Logan explained she had set out to refrain from creating an “after-school special” about mental illness. She disagreed with films that “checked off all the boxes about what a person with anxiety looked like or what a panic attack looked like,” and wanted to avoid that cheesy tone in her piece. She accomplished just that. Kat is growing and actively fighting this part of her in pursuit of her own happiness, and her partner’s reaction is miles away from perfect. This makes her love story all the more intriguing to follow.

Edited by Alexandra Sharp | asharp@themaneater.com

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