"It's so crazy to go from freelancing for Vice to cleaning hotel rooms."
The young woman who says that is Meron, 20. She has a degree in broadcast journalism, had some internships and works for the housekeeping department in a Toronto hotel. We see her cleaning toilets as she talks about her life and her expectations. Those expectations are large.
Watching Meron, I wanted to say something to her: "Listen, kid. I got my first full-time job in this media racket when I was 33 years old. For years before that, I freelanced, working in factories, warehouses and offices. Doing working-class jobs. To earn money. And kept on writing and writing. It's what you have to do."
Nobody in My Millennial Life (Saturday, TVOntario, 9 p.m.) wants to hear that. Can't blame them, even if the temptation to say it is just as strong as the frustration many millennials feel when they can't find jobs, a career and success soon after graduating from college or university.
The documentary – streaming nationally on TVO.org starting Sunday – is a major work about the current twentysomething generation.
It's made by Maureen Judge (and produced with Charlotte Engel), who has an excellent track record in documentaries (In My Parents' Basement and Unveiled: The Mother/Daughter Relationship) and a deft hand in revealing ordinary people in emotional detail without any contrivance.
"My dream was always to be a MuchMusic VJ," Meron says as she toils at the hotel. She's just one those profiled with a kind of faintly removed compassion by Judge.
The others are Tim, 24, who really wants to succeed with his rock band while he pays the bills by transcribing court testimony; Emily, 24, comes across first as a slacker who lets her dad pay her rent while she parties and makes grudging attempts to find work.
There is also James, 25, who quit school to develop his own tech startup, has won accolades, but has no money and allowed his parents to take out a mortgage to fund him. They all live in and around Toronto. Most have crushing student loan debt.
The American is Hope, 25, a freelance writer who landed multiple internships at big magazines, but hasn't landed a job in the media world. She lived with her parents at home in Philadelphia and commuted back and forth to Manhattan.
At first, it's hard not to be angry at Hope. "I wanna be famous and I wanna be rich!" she declares and is deeply puzzled that internships at magazines didn't make her a media celebrity/writer.
We see her working in sales and promotion for a company called USA Express Moving and Storage. She hates it. "I've no idea who I am right now," she says.
"I thought I had it all figured out. I just wanna be somebody. This job is kinda like, 'Eeww!' It's in a warehouse and I'm making phone calls!" She crinkles her nose in disgust to let us know how much that job is beneath her. You want to scream, "Deal with it!"
And yet, by the end, one has great sympathy for Hope. She and her boyfriend move to Tennessee and she has something approaching a reality check. And, by the way, we find out how the young subjects of the doc have been doing since they were filmed. Hope is doing just fine. Just maybe not as rich as she wants.
Emily, too, is an unappealing figure at first. "I spend my time doing nothing," she says. "My dad gives me money." She also says she is trying to earn money to pay for concert tickets that her friends bought for her.
Emily likes to party. She goes back to college, but gets annoyed when a course she takes doesn't deliver what she believes is promised. There is the air of the petulant brat about Emily.
Then, as this lovely, textured documentary unfolds and we learn more about the subjects, going beneath the surface, all we can feel is sympathy.
They are all well-educated, but paying jobs in their fields are few. Emily is working for nothing as an intern at Universal Music. It's a dream job for her, but it eventually dawns on her that nobody cares that she's there. She will be replaced by yet another unpaid intern. But she can get experience only by working for nothing. She has asthma and no money for the medication she needs. When she's talking directly to the camera, you can feel her burning frustration.
Plenty of stereotypes arise here. And probably a few millennials watching My Millennial Life will feel insulted. But Maureen Judge does not rush to judgment.
She followed the subjects over a long period and most are revealed to be more flexible and thoughtful than they first appear. The world they land in, looking for jobs and success, is more demanding and cruel than they expect. Yes, some feel entitled in a way that makes your skin crawl. Most, mind you, learn to readjust and tailor themselves and their expectation to that cruel world.
Yes, I'd still like to remind some of them that there's no shame in working at jobs that simply pay the bills. But, no, one cannot have contempt for them – only sympathy, in the end.