We Live in Public

Sundance favorite Ondi Timoner returns with a film that essentially reprises the huckster hyperbole of the Internet’s adolescence in documentary form. The dotcom career of early-adopter whizkid Josh Harris gets rendered as a series of landmark prophesies, his reckless megalomania deployed as sexy or creepy whenever useful to the doc’s rise-and-fall hustle. Timoner’s laudable impulse to chronicle recent history is wasted on insipid overstuffed montages and redundant testimonials, skirting real engagement with the culture in favor of cover-story hooks.

The film’s strength, such as it is, lies in the man-you-love-to-hate sketch of Harris, an entrepreneur who opened a pseudo-fascist commune in a Broadway basement outfitted with a panopticon’s worth of surveillance cameras. But gauging the accuracy of the portrait, the relative importance of his accomplishments in online television and market research, or even the basic facts behind the stories proves impossible because of the wall-to-wall overstatement, which is worthy of a vintage issue of Wired.

Timoner’s missed opportunity ends with a bewildering snapshot of Harris’s new life abroad in Ethiopia, but the move is about as mechanical as the opening video-letter Harris delivers to his dying mother in lieu of a visit. If the film reveals one thing clearly, it’s the existence of a minor critical crisis: the embarrassing and harmful tendency of reviewers to treat the historical accounts in documentaries as gospel.