Film Review: Snervous Tyler Oakley

This doc about a young Internet sensation goes for cutesiness at every turn and resultingly comes off as pure fluff, despite its subject’s obvious relevance and intelligence.
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In 2007, Michigan State college student Tyler Oakley began an online YouTube journal that has since burgeoned into an empire with over seven million followers, who are obsessed with his quirky, perky gay persona, humor and lifestyle, and his ever-present philosophy to just be yourself.

Amy Rice’s documentary Snervous Tyler Oakley follows the diminutive, platinum-haired web sensation on his sold-out international Slumber Party tour of the U.S., U.K. and Ireland. It’s a breezy affair that captures his love of onesies, which he wears as a trademark costume in his onstage appearances before hundreds of squealing, similarly attired admirers, most of whom are teenage girls. We also learn about his ineptitude with packing, repeatedly.

And, unfortunately, that’s about all we learn about him here, apart from a rather painful coming-out process when, at 14, his subsequently estranged father discovered his MySpace page which divulged his sexuality. The most trenchant scene in this fluffy basic promo of a film takes place between him and Dad, who tried to persuade him to seek therapy, and attempts to soft-pedal his homophobia as being part of the pain of his divorce from Tyler’s mother. His son refuses to buy this, while admirably observing that as difficult as this time was for him, many other young gays have it much, much tougher.

It would have been instructive to actually hear more from Oakley’s devoted fans about his positive effect on them, with his serious concern about teen depression and suicide. Despite his oft-stated gratitude for them, numerous scenes of him trying to avoid one-on-one encounters with the more mildly stalker-ish among them come off as insensitively diva-ish. Although one of the biggest Internet stars, his life seems lonely and rather antiseptic, peopled mainly by his best friend and partner, Korey Kuhl (who also serves as chief cook and bottle washer), and very involved mother, Jackie, who has herself become something of a celebrity.

Both Kuhl and Jackie accompany Oakley on tour, but we don’t see much of the actual shows apart from the adoring, screaming fans and the cutesy handshake/butt-bump routines the two guys have perfected. There is surprisingly very little actual YouTube footage to illustrate what made Oakley so popular, giving the doc a definite “preaching to the choir” feel. For the uninitiated like me, it was only by watching some of his webcasts that I got any real idea of his appeal. A meeting with Michelle Obama focusing on education reveals his intelligence and an episode of “In Bed with Joan Rivers” shows a raunchy, profane side with that sorely missed comedienne, at definite odds with the family-friendly, G-rated version of Oakley which this movie presents.

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