We’re All Going to the World’s Fair: YouTube, Therefore You Are, by David Bax
Some of the particulars of the story tapestry in Jane Schoenbrun’s We’re All Going to the World’s Fair might seem alien to those of us who came of age pre-2005 and the launch of YouTube. But the underlying tale of a lonely kid trying to validate herself by committing to a personality she hasn’t fully figured out yet will be instantly recognizable to misfits, weirdos and outsiders the world over.
Much of the movie takes place on computer screens, with images captured by computer and phone cameras. Schoenbrun and cinematographer Daniel Patrick Carbone differentiate between those shots and the “real” ones with sharper resolution and more varying lens lengths in the latter. But all of World’s Fair evokes that feeling of watching amateur YouTube videos late at night, all woozy, wet, blurry and neon.
Anna Cobb stars as Casey, a girl who takes the fictional “World’s Fair challenge” and sets out to document the spooky consequences she expects to develop via little-viewed confessional videos. Cobb only has one previous credit to her name, a role in a 2020 short film, but she’s perfect in this role, embodying the mix of unsettling otherworldliness and absurd dry humor that makes World’s Fair such a singular thing of odd beauty. When Casey flatly states into her phone, while sitting in the snow in a t-shirt, that she doesn’t even feel cold, it simultaneously smacks of the creepy kid horror movie trope and an Aubrey Plaza-style piss-take.
Cobb’s only other significant castmate is Michael J Rogers as another “World’s Fair challenge” aficionado who reaches out after viewing Casey’s videos. But Schoenbrun (who also edited) has other collaborators of note. In addition to Carbone and a score by lo-fi indie popper Alex G, there are a number of real life YouTubers, like ASMR creator Slight Sounds, whose videos Casey watches. Schoenbrun treats them almost as co-stars, more real to Casey then she is to herself.
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is one of the most incisive movies yet made about the internet and what kind of a place it is to live. It’s no surprise that the best of these often turn out to be horror films (Daniel Goldhaber’s Cam) or at least borrow generously from the genre (Magnus von Horn’s Sweat). It’s an intensely vulnerable and derealizing space in which we vivisect ourselves and hope we can feel something real, maybe even intimate, in return.
That’s why Casey is happy to have even one regular viewer, someone who’s shared interest and experience make him closer to her than the people in her tangible life (not that we ever see her interact with any of them). When he, worried about her, asks for a new video to show him that she’s okay, it’s Casey’s worldview vindicated. A YouTube video is not just proof of life; it is, in a Cartesian sense, proof of existence.