You might recall Carrie picking the documentary Searchers as one of her Top 5 most anticipated films on Alternate Ending's Sundance preview episode. I was inclined to agree with her, which is why I jumped at the chance to check out this particular entry. Speaking as someone who has met and started dating someone entirely during the course of the pandemic, largely using on line dating apps, I was curious to hear other people's stories of doing the same.

You see, Searchers presents us with a variety of New Yorkers using dating apps, looking directly at the camera with their phone screens superimposed over their faces. Usually these people are alone, but sometimes they are accompanied by a friend to provide running commentary (or in one case, to stare awkwardly into space before suddenly and exhilaratingly leaping into the fray to grill the director on his choices). It explores the wide variety of people the city has to offer, the wide variety of people they are interested in pursuing, and the wide variety of ways they go about that. It also intertwines these interviews with director Pacho Velez discussing his own interest in finding a romantic partner.

I am not clear whether the documentary was conceived pre- or post- the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. I'd imagine that it wasn't meant to be shot during quarantine, considering it what an enormous failure it would be if that was the case. Other than showing people wearing masks in scenes when they go out into the public, Searchers has no interest in exploring how the physical separation of 2020 has impacted our relationship with online dating. And frankly, I'm not clear that Searchers is actually interested in dating at all, other than offering the most shallow glance at the way people form first impressions.

The conspicuous moments where Velez foregrounds himself make it clear that he is definitely hoping this film will reflect a journey into American romantic life that it patently doesn't. He's very keen on posing questions without actually attempting to discuss the answers, as if the mere act of asking will magically imbue the movie with direction. Imagine if Morgan Spurlock opened Super Size Me by stroking his chin and asking "How does the prevalence of McDonalds affect the American diet?" in a ponderous faraway voice, then showing 90 minutes of footage of people ordering food at the front counter.

As an incidental document of what life is like in New York in 2020, Searchers is fascinating. But that information has to be gleaned from between the lines as it presents you with a parade of B-roll delicately placed to make the daring statement that people sure do look at their phones a lot. Unless this whole film is meant to be an alarming exposé about how couples will take huge exposure risks to snap cute maskless engagement photos at crowded New York landmarks.

Fortunately, when it comes to picking interesting people to present to the camera, Searchers is tops. It's fun to engage with this diverse group of human beings and spend time peering over their shoulders, hearing them chat about their experience on the apps. Or just feeling the shiver of recognition up your spine when someone is doing some intense Instagram stalking that you relate to in a way that makes you feel a little too seen. But it's perhaps telling that the screen lights up when they have a friend of theirs on hand to bounce off of, rather than just the documentary crew.

Searchers is a documentary on the hunt for a thesis, and it never quite snags onto one that's worthwhile. We see a lot of people swiping and talking about what they're interested in, but other than some fun stylistic fillips transitioning between interviewees, there is no sense of structure. It has all the narrative thrust of a pearl necklace, each scene existing independently in a chain of scenes that don't interact with it in any meaningful way. But just like a pearl necklace, that doesn't mean it's not pleasant to look at. Searchers is a brisk doc that clocks in under 90 minutes and features people you'd like to get to know, so it's never once a slog. It's just not anything more than pleasant.

Brennan Klein is a millennial who knows way more about 80's slasher movies than he has any right to. You can find his other reviews on his blog Popcorn Culture. Follow him on Twitter, if you feel like it.