With Creative Control, Benjamin Dickinson makes an all-out bid to anoint himself the heir to Bret Easton Ellis’s throne of hyper-cynicism by humorlessly chronicling another tie-tugging business twentysomething who finds himself as unfulfilled in the board room as he is in the bedroom. Such a description aptly explains David (Dickinson), a Brooklynite workaholic who’s responsible for creating Augmenta, a Google-Glass type device that, naturally, allows its user to create digital versions of female crushes. At least, David uses it as such, since his co-worker crush, Sophie (Alexia Rasmussen), is off limits given her relationship with Wim (Dan Gill), David’s buddy. Complicating matters is Juliette (Nora Zehetner), David’s girlfriend, who lazily teaches yoga at a nearby studio and soon discovers David’s surrogate A.I. lover.
These plot points, rather than anchoring Dickinson’s self-ameliorating characters, are a skeletal framework for an indulgent and misguided use of black-and-white digital photography that mistakes the mere presence of chiaroscuro as a richer palette for expressing Creative Control’s artistic merit. Moreover, the visual style bridges a barrage of empty allusions to other films—namely, Barry Lyndon and After Hours.
In fact, the opening scenes of a fast-paced office captured by a roaming, unchained camera are lifted straight from Scorsese’s seriocomic fever dream, though Dickinson has replaced Griffin Dunne’s sweaty, desperate dupe with a Patrick Bateman type whose “brilliance” always seems a click or two from homicidal insanity. While Dickinson never goes full-Ellis in that regard, David’s very existence as a wealthy and unfulfilled egoist hedges the film’s bets, since he isn’t meant to be either a figure of ridicule or empathy, but a surrogate for contemporary, anti-haute couture desire—Ellis’s specialty. That is, every inch of the film covets David’s ambition, even if it outwardly castigates his hubris; it envisions him as hero, if just for one day.
Though Creative Control is overrun with characters, it’s less interested in their identity than their plasticity, almost as Sisyphean shells to hinge a treatise of despair upon. Flashes of satire appear, like how every male character sports glasses and a beard, as if the uniform of futurity became permanent via the present stylings of bohemia. However, it’s never made clear whether the representational choice deliberately jabs at corporate marketing campaigns or whether the homologous fashion choices are merely a stroke of the film’s own pronounced pretentions, not least of which includes “Sarabande” being played in nearly half a dozen scenes. In other words, the satirical pitch of Creative Control is consistently drowned out by its self-wallowing aesthetics.
Were the film truly consumed by its characters’ need to perpetually flee an intolerable present, it wouldn’t insist upon featuring these allegedly despicable figures—David especially—in voluminous close-ups and endless slow-motion sequences, all of which do little more than inject a grating sense of forced cool upon every shot. Dialogue mirrors these tendencies as well. When David is told he’s a “fucking genius” by his boss, he retorts: “No, I’m just younger than you.” The line’s ironic whammy dulls for its passive ambivalence regarding self-determination and its easy binarism between old and new. Subsequently, when David tells Juliette that she’s “like a 12-year-old who just found out there’s other people in the world besides you,” the accusation doubles as a critique of the film’s own, pastiche-driven sensibilities.