The Boy Who Sold the World

Directed by Adam Barton

Rating: 2 out of 5.

It doesn’t matter what idea you come up with, just so long as you can sell it. The thirsty fangs of capitalism seek to draw talent from any source, but if you want to plant your feet in its home territory, then America is the place to be. Ben Pasternak, “The Boy Who Sold The World” (2020), an undeniable person of brilliance, with a knack for technology, digital applications, but at the heart of it – marketing, seeks the opportunity of a lifetime. Moving to the states, with investors & financiers snapping at his heels for a chance to support him can Pasternak follow in the footsteps of high-school dropouts, who rise the ladder quickly, or are the stresses of money, success and being away from home too heavy a burden? Oh, did we mention he was fifteen during this?

By and large, the principal issue with Adam Barton‘s documentary is its framing, specifically Barton’s manoeuvres to humanise Pasternak, raising concerns to the film’s agenda. It attempts to find balance but offers much leeway for Pasternak to flaunt or to showboat, rather than posing questions or seeking answers. Barton structures the documentary with a fly-on-the-wall technique, relegating the camera to the side-lines and refraining from having an active presence. The predominant issue? A lot of this is smoke, mirrors and staging on the part of Pasternak, and given his age (between fifteen – nineteen throughout the filming) doesn’t feel authentic. Perhaps not premediated, but instead someone ‘hyped’ at the attention of filmmaking, Barton’s film doesn’t feel credible, its cinematic style is hands-off, but its storytelling is manipulative.

No doubt a marketing marvel of our times, Pasternak behaves less like a Zuckerberg, and far more like a kid out of his depth. There’s an eerie reflection of our societies gluttonous need for ‘likes’, ‘retweets’ and shares, rather than substance. Pasternak’s drive to push his creations to the peak of the app stores comes not out of pride or business ambition, but a disturbing ‘collection’ of sorts, for the thrill over success. Sam Mink’s editing results in an inability to inject much momentum into the dynamic, difficult given how much of the film is simplistic shots of Pasternak or his team on their phones, but there’s next to nothing in the way of visuals stimulation.

Quite shallowly, the film focuses its attention on the achievements of Pasternak, and when questions arise to the help he may have received, does little to counter his protestations that he managed this alone. Questions relating to teammates, previous employees and designers focus on their opinions of Pasternak, neglecting the work they have put into these ventures. Even after we hear audio-conversations with his mother, who argues that without their financial aid he would never have been able to start these ventures, the audience may be left to form their opinion, but the film still offers nothing as a rebuttal to Pasternak’s assertions.

Barton’s film, therefore, pedestals Pasternak, suggesting a large body of the work was his own, when in reality it’s quite evident there was help. In the film’s blind attempt at neutrality, it allows Pasternak to weave his own narrative, a self-made genius, who really, has had opportunities many would dream of. The lacking depth of the film struggles to engage, and while, correctly, encouraging the audience to form their own opinions on Pasternak as a person, much of the documentary feels empty. At under an hour and a half, much is glossed over, swept aside, and Barton places heavy emphasis on aspects which, to be blunt, are utterly meaningless and feel like a preamble.

The Boy Who Stole the World” won’t be stealing any hearts, nor minds, failing to capitalise on a tremendous opportunity to dive into a potential rising entrepreneur. Troublingly, perhaps the documentary reflects Pasternak’s early career, with a stratospheric rise, followed by a swift, plunge back into obscurity awaiting a future project.

A maestro of marketing, Pasternak can rest assured that despite an effort to balance opinion, “The Boy Who Stole the World” doesn’t do much to act in the way of negative PR, but then again, it doesn’t manage to do much of anything. This is a tremendous story, an authentic coming-of-age experience of a rising entrepreneur balancing the harsh world of business as it melds with an angsty, hormonal teenage mindset, the real shame is how mundane Barton’s film makes the experience: ineffective, but harmless.

Review originally published for In Their Own League:


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