Like most single individuals these days, I use dating apps. It’s just how it goes. Like many others, my success is sporadic, broken up by long periods of swiping, etc, with no responses. Or, responses but no connections. It’s undoubtedly a strange thing for someone who has no awareness of the situation to witness. So, for that person whose been stranded on Mars for a decade and change, Searchers may be fascinating. For everyone else, it’s old news with very little to say. Easily among the weakest titles at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, it quickly tests your patience. As far as documentaries go, it’s borderline pointless, and that’s hardly a recipe for success.
Searchers wants to depict how modern dating is, but over 80 minutes and change, it just showcases step one. Boredom sets in very quickly. Perhaps the pandemic prevented a fuller look, but this should only be the first act of a broader film about modern dating in New York City. Limited to just this single aspect, it’s far too incomplete of an experience to even come close to working.
The documentary follows a fairly diverse set of New Yorkers, during the COVID-19 pandemic, no less, as they navigate one of the many dating apps in the world. They’re out there, searching on their preferred app for that special someone. Maybe it’s a casual encounter. Maybe it’s something more. Various genders, races, sexual orientations, and even ages are represented. As they swipe, message, and ponder these strangers, they speak of prior dating experiences. Some muse about who they’re looking for. The shared goal is a connection, which admittedly is ironic, considering they’re looking at devices, instead of other human beings.
Nothing here is at all interesting, sadly. One subject after the next browses a dating app, looking at prospective matches and musing on who they’re looking for. That’s it. I know it sounds unlikely, but a feature length nonfiction movie was made out of what so many of us do passively on the couch. It’s frustrating to witness because Searchers could try to say something about the whole situation. Instead, it just shows us, over and over again.
Filmmaker Pacho Velez makes the unusual decision to sometimes include his own dating quests here. It makes what otherwise would be somewhat inoffensive also seem self-serving. His direction is repetitive, regardless of who is on the screen, give or take the occasional amusing remark by one of the subjects. The main issue here is that no larger point is made. Anyone who has used one of these apps has already experienced this documentary, plain and simple.
Searchers may be more appealing to your grandparent, but to anyone with any bit of familiarity with modern dating, it offers up absolutely nothing new. The Sundance crowd is decidedly the latter, as opposed to the former, so this was certainly the wrong audience for the doc. Velez may have hoped for something loftier, but it just wasn’t to be. After Sundance, expect this one disappear as quickly as swiping away a potential match.