Brian Formo [Team Godzilla]’s review published on Letterboxd:
On my first viewing, I'll have to say, I got this film wrong. I think it's justifiable to be annoyed or uneasy or put off by the sexism of Under the Silver Lake but I think part of the reason I got this film wrong is because there are aspects of myself that I didn't want to acknowledge or look at here. So, because those were only fragments, rather than engage with them, I dismissed the film. Still, my mind kept drifting back to David Robert Mitchell's film. Over the past six months I've thought of it often. Particularly as our multiplex got crammed with sequels and spandex, here was this highly original truffle that outright annoyed me that I kept running scenes through in the back of my head. It was, of course, assisted by being set in the neighborhood that I live in, Silver Lake, Los Angeles. But once the esteemed tastemaker distributor A24 decided not to grapple with the film at all and dumped it into a dozen theaters for a week before making it available on VOD, I knew I needed to revisit the fantasia of my neighborhood, and the icky residue of young male thoughts of mine own.
Under the Silver Lake needs to be viewed through the eyes of Andrew Garfield's bumbling and naive nobody-asked-him-to-be-a detective. This is a film about a generation of men who discovered their dad's Playboy magazines and were handed down this idea that a beautiful woman is to be looked at, worshipped, saved, but never truly engaged. This is a film about a generation of men who were marketed grunge music at an early age and fancied themselves the next Kurt Kobain or Kurt Loder. This is a generation of manhood that was raised by Don Draper but now has to navigate neighborhoods, work spaces, apartment complexes of beautiful women whom they'll never get with, and who even bark at them or outright dismiss them, who move in packs and don't need them to achieve anything. The forever deemed special are no longer special and actually have to compete not just with themselves, but everyone. And thus, there are more lost young men who aren't special, aren't prepared for the world, and certainly aren't prepared to connect with a woman who is engaging with the world as it is in this moment.
Mitchell uses the last archetype of Generation X, the slacker, whom knew they were too doomed to give a shit about any of this and transposed that onto the millennial hipster who got to skip all the doom and instead join the tech boom that launched many young careers but not all. Youth runs more of the show now but still is tied to the puppet-string bidding of the Boomer generation, the Playboy generation, the separate parlor games of old men. There are many reactions to this set-up, and many young men are choosing conspiracies, again a handed down reaction from their fathers from the Vietnam-Nixon years. So if a beautiful girl from an apartment complex, who engaged with him just enough to feel potentially special, goes missing, of course there is a massive conspiracy keeping them apart.
Additionally, what tools does this young man have at his disposal to investigate with? Past cultural touchstones of music, cereal boxes, movies, etc. The very items that the Boomer Generation is marketing back at men now to remind them of the promise they felt when they were younger: when culture centered on their adventures in movies, video games, comics, etc. and worthwhile women were rescued and curvy women were playthings.
Letting this mindset become the map that Mitchell uses to investigate and poke fun of each generation of men allows Silver Lake to unfurl like a cartoon regurgitation of Fight Club, except minus the doom of Gen-X, just the horniness of running neighborhoods and companies of the following generation. It's told by an outsider whose monied privilege and white male body that knows enough acceptable cultural touchstones that it affords him a peek behind the curtain of Oz.
Watching it again, it seems obvious that Mitchell doesn’t condone the outright misogyny on display but also that he is aware that some type of casual misogyny exists in the majority of heterosexual men. And it's this final part, this awareness that I too have leered or felt special enough, when I was younger, that women should see that in me, and still sometimes now; I don't want to admit that and it kept me at distance from the film at first. I am disgusted by Roosh V, entitled bros, and I greatly admire and respect many women and can say The Future Is Female with a genuine hope for that. I am a better man than my father and I am a better man than many men, but I still will choose a subway seat that's across from a beautiful woman, or do a double take to at which store a group of beautiful women walk into, not to follow, but suddenly it's a place worth knowing of simply by their new presence. I still do. And that casual looking or quick blip of need to know is something that I imagine most men raised by our fathers/raised by our pop culture still have a little of, as woke as we may be, there's still some internal alarm that goes off in the presence of a beautiful woman. And that internal buzz is this film on hyper-drive, the force that propels us into a massive conspiracy of subliminal messages and roadblocks of speciality in a changing world of new corporations, new pop culture, gender equality, and even a lack of an outright need of masculinity.
Under the Silver Lake is messy, beguiling, adventurous, angering, beautiful, and original; a college thesis film given an immense runway of freedom and then buried underneath the very excessive concrete that Mitchell was granted.