You know that old teen movie cliché whereby a character works really hard on a skirt or a dance routine or a song, only to show up at the school talent show or cheerleading competition to find someone else performing it better? Well, that just happened to YouTube (GOOG) celebrity Shane Dawson, first-time director of the movie Not Cool.
Dawson, 26, is one of two directors who shot the same basic teen movie using the same rough script, as part of the Starz (STRZA) reality-TV competition, The Chair. The alternate version of the script, by New York University film school graduate Anna Martemucci, is called Hollidaysburg. Both films are about recent high school grads who return home from college during Thanksgiving break to find that things have changed. In both movies, two of the grads fall in love.
Hollidaysburg is a sweet-natured take on heartache and late adolescence. With lines such as, “You know they say you can’t go home again. … No, I mean you actually can’t go home again. I’m packing everything into a U-Haul,” it’s hardly breaking cinematic ground. But it’s a cute, Garden State-esque teen movie that’s been getting warm reviews.
Not Cool, on the other hand, appears to be nothing short of a cinematic hot mess. Dawson, who has more than 6 million subscribers at his YouTube channel, cast himself as the formerly popular homecoming king who can’t seem to get a grip on life after high school. His girlfriend in the film has bleached-blonde hair and a penchant for bathroom glory holes. Later on in the movie he falls for a nerdy, girl-next-door type whose bucket list includes “ride a roller coaster topless” and “swallow a condom,” two things most women aren’t interested in doing. It is a very poorly written, poorly shot, and possibly offensive. The reviews it is getting are even worse.
The Los Angeles Times called Not Cool “a comedy that only date-rapists, racists and sociopaths could love.” The Village Voice said sitting through all 90 minutes was “painful,” and the New York Times declared it “so poorly executed and so unfunny that no one involved with it should ever be allowed to work in the movies again.”
The movie is failing so spectacularly that aggregation site Metacritic’s one-to-100 scale of reviewer response gave Not Cool a score of one. The motion picture industry trade magazine Film Journal International compared it to Ed Wood’s 1959 Plan 9 From Outer Space—a movie so sloppily made that Wood used footage of then-deceased Bela Lugosi from a previous project so he could use the movie star’s name in promotions—with Plan 9 coming out as the better film.
None of that seems to matter in the Starz reality competition: Not Cool is definitely winning. Dawson has such a large social media fan base that, according to Box Office Mojo, his film pulled in more than $10,000 during its opening weekend by playing in a single theater in Los Angeles. (Hollidaysburg, meanwhile, has made $2,500 doing the same). Not Cool is currently the 25th-most-popular movie on iTunes (AAPL), its trailer has more than 3 million YouTube views—a million more than Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader’s new indie comedy, Skeleton Twins—and scores of comments by fans, some as young as 12, begging Dawson to show the film in their town or asking what it will be rated (since they can’t get into PG-13 films). It’s possible that Dawson will beat out Martemucci for Starz’s $250,000 grand prize.
“What is the definition for what is better? Was it the movie that made $6 billion or the one that won Oscars?” The Chair‘s producer, Chris Moore, who also co-produced the HBO show Project Greenlight, asked IndieWire. Maybe the better answer is, which movie has the most sex jokes?