Netflix’s Carnaval proves that social media and (sometimes) streaming content can be a waste of time, resources, and talent, even if a party is provided.
This review of the Netflix film Carnaval contains no spoilers.
From director Leandro Neri, Netflix’s Brazilian girls’ trip Carnaval follows a social media influencer and her friends on their vacation to the Bahian Carnival in Salvador. They dance, they fall in love, they learn about themselves and each other. The film takes time to forcibly suggest that social media isn’t reality, but neither is the story of Carnaval, hurt by absurd character development, unnecessary romance, and a realized sense of self that’s plastic.
The four young women head to Salvador on the rising Instagram popularity of Nina (Giovana Cordeiro), a model with over 200,000 followers. After a breakup with a fellow influencer, one in which she confronted him at a CrossFit gym, earning her a brutal, gossipy nickname, Nina recruits her best friends to join the carnival trip due to the supposed generosity of Freddy Nunes (Micael), a hunky singer with a huge digital presence. One problem: they’re put in a lesser hotel for influencers with less than one million followers.
That problem, which sets off a series of events in the four women’s lives, becomes an apt way to encapsulate Neri’s film, filled with problems and situations that loom large for these semi-celebrities but have little to no impact on the world outside of these resorts. The stakes couldn’t be lower in Carnaval, as Nina continues to rise in popularity and annoyance towards her closest friends. These characters overcome obstacles that lack importance, with each passing minute triter than the next, outside of Mayra’s (Bruna Inocencio) crowd-induced anxiety caused by serious childhood trauma.
Meanwhile, the other characters must make personal sacrifices to continue partying at the carnival. Vivi (Samya Pascotto) must learn not to judge a book by its cover… and date the hot guy who happens to be nerdy! Michelle must follow her heart when she kisses someone she has a connection with and figures out why she can’t find that magic spark! And Nina must throw aside her selfishness and vanity to spend time with her friends, which she never actually does, keeping her followers just as close to her heart. It all becomes silly in Carnaval, watching these people act like these hurdles deserve more attention and energy than are necessary, fighting over trivial decisions, and ruining a carnival that genuinely looks like a good time, especially if you happen to be an influencer.
Sure, Neri and co-writers Peu Barbalho, Audemir Leuzinger, and Luisa Mascarenhas attempt to insert meaning into this story, a token that you can take forward into your life. Social media isn’t everything. Friends are everything. Be yourself. Have courage. Learn who you are before you share it with the world. The list goes on and on, but none of these phrases have the backing from characters or narrative to give them weight. They’re floating sweet nothings that go in one ear and out the other, both by audience members and by the characters, despite traces of hope for Mayra and Freddy that they’ve become better, happier people after the Bahian Carnival.
Carnaval wants to stay light and fun, unable to double-down on its ideas about the horror of social media and the influencers it creates. It pushes you to get up and dance during scenes of pure, adult-Disneyland pleasure, but you won’t be upset if you grab your phone and text your friends. Because after all, according to Carnaval, friends save you. Without them, you might end up as a racist, fatphobic, homophobic model influencer. If that’s not a life lesson, I’m not sure what is.