Director: James Ponsoldt
Stars: Emma Watson, Tom Hanks
2 (of 5) globes
Essentially an average episode of ‘Black Mirror’, ‘The Circle’ is a dystopia 10 minutes from now about a cool tech company that has found a way to get people to freely, even happily, give up their lives. private, rather than an evil empire taking it from them. If it sounds like Apple or Google, then it’s bingo. Adapted from the novel by Dave Eggers by Eggers himself, his points are important and timely, but also painfully obvious. It’s the kind of film that makes people not very intelligent say: “It really makes you think.”
Our guide at the start of 21st Hellscape of the Century is Mae (Emma Watson), a shy person who finds herself in said business. Their mo is to unify all technology services – from social media to email to, one day, they hope, taxes, even voting – into one useful internet blob. The CEO is played by Tom Hanks under a salt-and-pepper fake beard and dressed in casual half-zip sweaters. (He’s an American with the cute name of Eamon, so you know he’s evil.) Mae starts out in customer service (sorry: “Customer Experience”), and she’s first scared off by a team of millennials who live on company grounds like gravity bang-hoist undergrads and make her feel guilty when she dares to kayak alone without alerting the entire information highway.
Mae’s flip-flop mid-movie from wallflower to cheerful, latently fascist corporate public mascot doesn’t make much sense. Maybe it worked better on the page. “The Circle” has the feel of a fable, where the broad characters and their under-motivated actions can be excused as part of the sale of a homily. But the film version was made, by James Ponsoldt of “The Spectacular Now,” as drama with an ax to grind. It’s not quite a satire, because a satire would be more cutting and also funnier. Instead, it’s more grounded, more sincere – because nothing hides a lack of real ideas better than an air of sincerity.
There are jokes, however, some of them are funny, even the ones that are a bit on the nose. When Mae arms her followers to target oppressive regimes around the world, she concludes by saying, “I want to thank everyone who sent frowns to the government there.” And once Mae becomes the first person to stream it every second on the World Wide Web, the screen fills with pop-up comments from her millions of followers. Take a quick look and you’ll see that some of them are wearing decent, random yuks. (“I’m eating cheese from a year ago.” “My girlfriend just dumped me.”) More thought has gone into crafting these one-liners than anywhere else on “The Circle.”
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge