Movie review: ‘@urFrenz’

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Cyberbullying reached a bizarrely tragic nadir with the 2006 suicide of Megan Meier, the investigation of which revealed that a friend’s mother had sent harassing messages to the teenage Meier under a fake name through MySpace. Writer/director Jeff Phillips’ dark, cautionary indie “@urFrenz” mines this story for bracing yet understated drama.

When psychologically fragile high school outsider Catharine (Lily Holleman) develops a flirtatious online relationship with a boy she’s never met, she doesn’t realize it’s actually middle-aged Realtor Debbie (Gayla Goehl) using a phony name. With quickly ratcheting malevolence born by the thrill of supposed anonymity, Debbie fishes for proof that Catharine has been spreading lies about her popular daughter Madison (Najarra Townsend), herself an emotionally troubled soul.

Pitching his movie in a tantalizing tonal area between the educational preaching of an afterschool special and the sensationalistic suspense of a Lifetime movie, Phillips strives for nuance and naturalism over melodrama, and he’s aided greatly by the intimate handheld camerawork of J. Søren Viuf. The performances, however, are the standouts, with nervy, wary-eyed Holleman and melancholic beauty Townsend in particular offering equally arresting and individualized portraits of Internet-fueled insecurity in an increasingly paranoid age for parent/child relationships.


Though a third act twist momentarily disrupts its emotional logic, “@urFrenz” earns distinction for its generally keen focus on the treacherous intersection of adolescent instability and the more reckless corners of online “connecting.”

“@urFrenz.” No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. At the NuArt, West Los Angeles.