Now Streaming: REALITY, How Ads Kill It

Sydney Sweeney stars in director Tina Satter's adaptation of her own stage play, now streaming on Max, with and without ads, and now playing in UK movie theaters.

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, US (@peteramartin)
Now Streaming: REALITY, How Ads Kill It

If you only knew.

The film debuted May 29 and is now streaming on Max. It opened June 2 in UK movie theaters.

Playwright and director Tina Satter staged Is This a Room in 2019, described as a "verbatim transcription" of what happened to American Air Force veteran Reality Winner in June 2017, when she was suspected of leaking classified government information to the media while she was working as a translator with top-secret security clearance.

The film version begins as Reality (Sydney Sweeney) arrives home from grocery shopping and encounters two FBI agents, Taylor (Marchánt Davis) and Garrick (Josh Hamilton), who detain her on her own property and begin an interrogation that steadily increases in tension as additional agents arrive and start to search her home.

It's a minute-by-minute tick-tock, with the dialogue taken straight from the official transcript of the lengthy interview. The film runs 83 minutes, and is fascinating to watch, especially for those with an interest in the techniques of non-violent interrogation. It also serves as a showcase for the persuasive talents of the three lead actors, creating characters who respond and change subtly, with minute adjustments in their attitude and temperament.

On the ad-supported plan, however, Reality is not gripping nor particularly compelling. Indeed, the ads continually kill the tension that the film intends to convey. Every 15 minutes, the ads dispel the atmosphere and sap any anxiety that the previous segment built. Every 15 minutes, the film must start again to recreate the mood, and it is not structured to do so.

As an "HBO Original," I thought Reality would have ads at the beginning, as with "HBO Original" shows, such as Succession or Barry, and like most movies in theaters, which have all the ads in the pre-show. Instead, the ads popped up every 15 minutes. Brief as they were, they were quite noticeable and broke the mood every time. (Imagine if you're watching Oppenheimer in a theater in July, and an ad pops up every 15 minutes, reminding you to buy popcorn.)

I watch films and television shows on a variety of streaming services, both ad-free and ad-supported. Episodic shows that are created and paced to allow for ad breaks are the ones I most enjoy watching. If the show is quite good, I might even binge-watch. If my reaction is so-so or "meh," the ad breaks remind me that the show is not something I really want to spend time watching and encourage me to tune out entirely, switching off or watching or doing something else.

Streaming services that show films with ad breaks are, generally, the worst, since they interrupt the flow and whatever narrative coherence that has been established. Streaming services that show films with all the ads at the beginning are the best, since this allows the advertisers to show their wares and then allows the filmmakers to showcase their creative work, uninterrupted, in the manner which they intended.

I write this on an ad-supported site. As with television shows and movies on streaming services, I realize that nothing is truly "free" to watch or read; advertising supports that. And advertising on this site allows us to pay our bills. Likewise, advertising on streaming services enables them to continue to exist, to pay creative talent, and to pay their own below-the-line employees.

Everyone has a right to make a living. That's reality. But everyone also has a right to decide how they watch and support movies and television shows. That's also reality.

Now Streaming covers international and indie genre films and TV shows that are available on legal streaming services.

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