The movie studios didn’t screen this for the critics. That’s usually a sign that the film is in trouble. Yet when I saw the Reading Town Square was showing it at 8 p.m. on Thursday night, I went to check it out.
It was written and directed by James Ponsoldt, who gave us the decent movies The Spectacular Now and End of the Tour. It was based on the Dave Eggers book, and it couldn’t have come at a better, or worse, time. The reason it’s a great time is because of how much we rely on social media, and how we’re amazed when we Google something, we start seeing ads for similar products popping up on our Facebook pages. Big advertising brother is watching.
It’s the worst time because…we’ve seen all these concepts before. Book lovers might think of 1984. Movie fans will think of Ex Machina, Minority Report, The Truman Show, Ed TV, Unfriended, Snowden, and a few other films. The movie also telegraphs everything.
Mae (Emma Watson) has a boring temp job answering phones, and her friend gets her an interview working for The Circle — the biggest company on the planet, that seems to have a fun, party vibe that puts Google to shame (any boss that hires Beck to play a company party is a good boss in my book). During the interview she’s asked a series of rapid fire questions; example: “Paul or John?” to which she replies, “Early Paul, late John.”
I’d hire her right then.
The way everyone seems unnaturally friendly is perfect for setting the scene. We’re all thinking Stepford Wives or, after Get Out, you’re maybe thinking she should run for the hills. But hey…CEO Eoman Bailey (Tom Hanks) is like a more charming Steve Jobs, standing on stage talking about how he’d rather be surfing. Who wouldn’t want to work there? And after they put her family on her health plan, she thinks they really care a lot about their employees. We all realize this is a cult type of atmosphere, and present merely more ways they’ll be able to spy on her.
Mae’s parents are played by Glenne Headly, who I wish did more movies; as well as Bill Paxton, in one of his last roles. It makes it even sadder that his character is suffering from MS.
It’s refreshing that we realize Hanks and comedic genius Patton Oswalt are the bad guys, but they’re not over-the-top, mustache-twirling villains. Some might argue they’re not all that bad. They want to catch criminals with their technology, get people to vote, and check weather conditions at the beach. But as we all know…absolute power corrupts absolutely.
The criminally underused John Boyega (who we got to meet at the San Diego International Film Festival) pops up in various scenes. A few of them are problematic. It’s a shame that there are a handful of these scenes that just take you out of it. For example, when Mae is approached by two co-workers who are asking about her social media settings, they talk like hypnotized, happy robots trying to get information out of her. You wonder if Ponsoldt was trying to also go for dark comedy, which, along with the shoddy editing of the overall film, doesn’t set the proper tone.
Yet the handsome cinematography by Matthew Libatique (Money Monster, Straight Outta Compton, Black Swan), and the strong cast, help keep you interested. There are also a lot of scenes that are fun. One of those occurs when Mae decides to wear a camera 24 hours a day. We see the various comments from the viewers. A lot of them are funny, but what’s more interesting, is that some are written in other languages. They also disappear so fast you can’t read them all (one talked about farting when they sleep, another talked about artist Ai Weiwei…both in ways that were funny). Something about that made it more intriguing and realistic. How many times have we read a news story online, and spent more time reading all the responses, despite how insane some of them may be.
There are a few thought provoking scenes. One of them involves an employee that doesn’t understand why Mae would be shocked that they put tracking chips in children to keep them from being kidnapped or lost at the park.
This movie did have one of those mistakes another similar movie had. When she’s wearing a camera, why do they go from showing what the viewers see to also showing her face?
We also needed a bit more plot and character development.
Overall, it’s not as profound as it thinks it is, but it certainly has you talking and holds your interest.
The ending worked better than I thought it would, but many will find it a tad anti-climatic.
2 ½ stars out of 5.