Life on the road isn’t quite what Ella and her girlfriend Katie dreamed of when they quit their jobs and drove off in pursuit of the #VanLife dream. The pressure of churning out sponsored social media posts to fund their new lifestyle has taken its toll on their relationship, and for Katie, they’ve reached the end of the road. When Ella makes a deal with her to shoot one last ad for an organic dog food brand.
Honestly, after reading that synopsis, do you really need an extra few hundred words to help you decide to watch Gaia? What more could you possibly need? Okay then. Gaia is a total joy from the beginning to the horrendously dark end. Living that #VanLife is all well and good in countries where the weather is kind to you, but it takes a special kind of person to battle through the grey damp that is the UK. Coming from a family that loved the obligatory weekend trip in a caravan, no matter the weather, I can tell you that the countryside, though gorgeous, can be GRIM.
So, add in the life choice of having to be social media activities to help supplement their lifestyle, and you have a disaster waiting to happen. The relationship is straining, with passive aggressions seeping their way into the smallest of moments. They are done with this situation, and to save their relationship, they need more than a converted van to live in. You have imagined this was the case for a lot of couples forced into living together during COVID. You can get sick of a person very quickly if you are confined in such a claustrophobic way.
The joy of Gaia is in seeing the splintering of the duo and how being that happy-go-lucky influencer is nothing like what the audience sees on their phone. Ella holds that pose for her photos while a non-compliant Gaia merely looks on. Dorothy Allen-Pickard and Billy Barrett nail it all in the opening six or so minutes, and when we get to Ella trying to make Gaia sound like this wild creature instead of the coddled, happy-to-lick-your-face terrier that she is, you can only laugh.
The little moments before the film goes as dark as it can (yet also in the cringey cover your mouth as you say “stop it” type of way) get you. First, Katie told Ella it was better to wear something else to help increase the post’s numbers. Then to cut to Ella practising THAT influencer smile; it’s just perfect and so well written. But, of course, the pièce de resistance is the moment after the shoot that destroys you into either a fit or laughs or pure shock.
Georgia Frost and Ellice Stevens knock it out of the park as the frustrated and eventually delusional couple. You feel their friction from the first minute, so we hope they get that break indoors in the warmth. However, this black comedy has far more up its sleeve than to play it as simple as that, and the payoff in Gaia is as frankly astoundingly brilliant as it is dark.
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