There are endless creative projects stemming from the elusive world of love and dating (this very website being one of them), so you would think that once you’ve experienced one, you’ve experienced them all. However, we know that’s not the case.
Instead, we find that, more often than not, each project takes us on a slightly different journey than the last. And The Browsing Effect is just that.
Do we have a surplus of movies that touch on dating in our generation? Yes. Do we continue to watch them because we want to feel seen? Yes. Is this movie going to do just that?
Written and directed by Michael K. Feinstein, The Browsing Effect is yet another display of our generation’s dating environment (mainly dating apps), and the BS that can come with it. But it also dives a bit deeper by unmasking the insecurities that begin to rise to the surface once we allow another person to enter the picture, whether that’s for a season or just a swipe.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Feinstein about the importance of this film, how his personal experiences affected the development of the plot, and his take on the highs and lows of dating in 2019.
Here’s our conversation:
Bruna: What led you to writing this project?
Feinstein: I am someone who has done and still does a ton of dating through apps and other means, and I kind of recognized that I wasn’t seeing my experiences portrayed onscreen. You know? Every time I saw someone using an app to date on a TV show or a movie, it was always kind of a punchline about how someone was desperate or they wanted to get laid or whatever. And, sure, that happens. But it’s just one type among so many, and I felt like I wasn’t seeing that. And, you know, as a writer that excited me. The idea that no one had really portrayed this subject the way I felt it should be portrayed or could be portrayed.
Bruna: Yeah. And that’s actually a perfect segue to what I was going to ask next, which is what is that important, unique message that you want viewers to take away from this film?
Feinstein: I’m not trying to make any kind of definitive statement about dating. You know, my biggest hope is that I’m able to kind of capture a certain feeling and that maybe if seeing that feeling portrayed onscreen, you’ll have a little bit more perspective on why you do the things you do when you’re dating and why these things happened. And, you know, ultimately I think that online dating is great and online dating is awful. Mostly it’s everything in between.
I think that’s maybe the bigger message is that, you know, there’s so many different types of experiences happening on them and I think maybe the bigger message is about how we can’t get so caught up in it. It’s just a part of life now.
Bruna: You know, we’re the first generation to really experience this, and so it threw everyone for a loop in the beginning, and it begs the question, “Are we taking the humanity away from these connections?” Because all of a sudden it seems like a game on your phone, instead of actually trying to get to know someone.
Feinstein: We are the first generation to really have the whole dating experience kind of up end in this way. But, as I showed my movie to larger audiences, I found that people who were older, who never online dated, still related to the movie because when they were dating, it was still filled with anxiety. There was still the feeling that, “Oh. Maybe there’s someone out there that’s better.” I mean these feelings have always existed, I think. It’s just they’ve been heightened.
Bruna: I love that you just said that, because people tend to get mad at dating apps when it’s the person behind it that’s choosing to act that way. And so when you say it heightens it, that’s exactly what I really feel is going on and it’s all about your intention on getting on these apps, because if you go in wanting a relationship and making that known, cool. If you just want to hook up, cool. But make that known. And I think sometimes on dating apps, people who do want a relationship feel weird being open about that, because they almost feel like they’re supposed to only want to hook up if you’re on an app.
Feinstein: I think it’s always difficult to let someone else know what you want. It’s a difficult thing and, you know, I think these apps are a way to kind of maybe hide behind those things or to distract yourself. These apps just make it maybe a little bit more difficult because, we can be easily thrown away. No one has any kind of commitment to us, because it’s not like we have mutual friends with them. There’s nothing really obligating us to act like decent human beings, except our own kind of moral compass.
Being vulnerable is tough. It’ll always be tough. We hoped that the Internet would make it easier, to hide behind a username or put up the best picture you’ve ever taken of yourself, or whatever, but at the end of the day, people will always feel vulnerable when they’re dating.
Bruna: I’m curious to know if you drew any specific scenarios from your dating life and implemented that into the characters? Or even if there is a character that you kind of loosely based on you?
Feinstein: There was so much stuff that actually happened to me and so many of the characters share traits that I have.
The Ben character is probably the character that’s closest to me. I did date a Korean American girl, and the process of dating her caused me to kind of reflect about what I was looking for in someone and how important I felt certain cultural differences were and why it was attractive to date someone who was so different than me. But also, why it gave me certain anxieties and how this type of relationship could only really happen in this day and age, where I was able to meet someone so different and so outside the bubble of my own experiences, you know?
Then the Ben character has a sexual experience with someone he meets online and finds out that she had a boyfriend, and was only kind of using him because the boyfriend was having sexual difficulties. And that was something that had, crazily enough, actually happened.
Bruna: The dynamic between Ben and Rachel, when it came to trying to befriend each other after a breakup, but Ben wasn’t really ready and she just wanted to, was that drawn from personal experience?
Feinstein: I did have a relationship with someone who was very close and then we broke up and she wanted to be my friend, and I was kind of insulted by the idea that she would want to be my friend, because it was so difficult for me to even be in the same room as her. It made it seem like she didn’t really care.
Bruna: Well thank you for sharing that, because I was very curious to know and it’s one of the storylines that I heavily resonated with, so it’s very cool to hear the background. Last question. What do you think is the problem with dating?
Feinstein: I think the most difficult thing about dating is you don’t really know what’s good for yourself. It’s tough, you know? To really get to the bottom of, “What do I need?” You can kind of come up with what you want. Even that’s difficult sometimes, but what do you need?
You know, when I see people who are together and they found their soul mate or whatever, it baffles me. How? How does that happen? It seems like a matter of chance and luck, like someone who’s won the lottery. You know, people win the lottery and it could’ve been any other number. So it constantly baffles me. I can’t say I have any answers. I kind of made the movie about my questions, I don’t know if I have any answers to them.
The Browsing Effect will be released on digital and On Demand April 9.