Nestled somewhere deep inside of “The Circle” lies an interesting concept for a movie. Maybe it was bad creative choices. Maybe the Dave Eggers novel didn’t translate well from book to screen. I’m guessing it’s a combination of both that shortchange this film adaptation. There are certainly some filmmaking decisions that don’t pan out and you would like to think the tech-heavy story is better explored in Eggers’s novel (which I haven’t read).
“The Circle” is directed by James Ponsoldt who also wrote the screenplay along with Eggers. Their story tinkers with modern themes of privacy, interconnectivity, and even Information Age totalitarianism to a degree. It all sounds nice a relevant. Problem is it’s all squished together in a half-baked of soup of clumsy execution, unbelievable story angles, and underdeveloped relationships.
Emma Watson plays Mae Holland, an aimless twenty-something stuck working a crummy job, driving a crummy car, and with a crummy social life. Things perk up when her best friend Annie (Karen Gillan) gets her an interview at The Circle, a Silicone Valley tech corporation in the mold of Apple, Google, etc. Mae gets hired (to what position I still haven’t figured out) and is soon grafted into the company’s cultish hipster culture.
Tom Hanks plays Eamon Bailey, the company’s Steve Jobs-ish CEO who has his predominately millennial employees under his charismatic spell. He opens the door for Mae to climb the corporate ladder by becoming the face of his push for more control of the world’s information. Mae’s rise makes her a celebrity on campus but distances her from her family and friends.
A key conflict in the film pits Mae’s old personal life again her new life of success and popularity at the Circle. The film struggles to make Mae’s personal life worth caring about. Her parents are played by Bill Paxton and Glenne Headly, the two genuine characters in the entire movie. Paxton’s Vinnie struggles with MS while Headly’s Bonnie is his strong supportive caregiver. They are easy to care for but much of that comes from the real life circumstances. Both Paxton and Headly died this year adding an extra emotional punch to these final performances.
“The Circle” tries to offer up a thought-provoking critique but ultimately it’s more goofy than provocative. First off it’s simply impossible to believe in The Circle as an actual organization and it’s even harder to believe in the many characters who bought into it. And in this world don’t underestimate the power of the frownie face emoji in foreign policy. And then you have Mae stepping out and becoming ‘transparent’. It’s meant to be a big deal step forward when it’s nothing more than a souped up YouTube channel
Several other things stand out. Ellar Coltrane (“Boyhood”) plays Mae’s shy childhood friend. They do some interesting things with his character before it runs off the rails but it’s hard to enjoy it because Coltrane’s performance is so bad. And then you have John Boyega, a welcomed addition but he the story completely wastes him.
Despite its many sour notes “The Circle” isn’t unbearable. It moves along pretty well and it keeps your attention. But I wonder if that’s due to good filmmaking or to my bubbling curiosity that just couldn’t wait to see where this mess would go next. Regardless of what it teases, “The Circle” doesn’t really go anywhere and that may be its biggest flaw – lots of potential, practically all of it wasted.
VERDICT – 2 STARS