Directed by James Ponsoldt (“The Spectacular Now”) and starring big-time actors like Emma Watson (“Beauty and the Beast”), Tom Hanks (“Bridge of Spies”) and strangely Patton Oswalt (“Ratatouille”) in a suit, “The Circle” is a film wrought with wasted potential. The concept is strong — it points out the omnipresence of social media and the internet within our society — but the execution is weak and disappointing.

The film is based on Dave Eggers’s (“A Hologram for the King”) 2013 novel of the same name which centers on the young Mae Holland (Watson) who begins working at a giant tech company rivaling Facebook and Google, The Circle. The Circle is a millennial’s paradise, filled with Doga (Dog Yoga), juice bars and Beck (yes, Beck performs in the film, and it might be the best part). The Circle is led by the charismatic, tea-drinking, jeans-wearing Eamon Bailey (Hanks), who comes across as more of a motivational speaker than a Mussolini. At the film’s start, Mae seems hesitant and critical of the company’s strategy and philosophy, yet she decides to go completely “transparent” (documenting every moment of her life on camera), giving in to their twisted ideas on privacy. Mae’s ambivalence is never addressed or even reconciled in the film. She flip-flops from uncertainty to full on reality star in a matter of minutes, leaving her character development muddy and unclear.

Additionally, the relationships throughout the film are left unestablished. Annie (“Doctor Who”‘s Karen Gillan) gets Mae the job, yet the viewer knows little to nothing about their past and their friendship. John Boyega (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) as Ty Laffite is on screen for about two minutes and somehow is defined as Mae’s love interest, yet he spends most of his limited time using his phone. Ellar Coltrane (“Boyhood”) plays Mercer, Mae’s childhood friend, who is disturbed by Mae’s ever-present internet presence. However, yet again their relationship is undefined and when tragedy strikes, grief and responsibility are overtaken by poor decisions and an unresolved plot.

In 110 minutes, “The Circle” acts like an extended episode of “Black Mirror,” only that “Black Mirror” does technology gone awry and social media dominance better and quicker. The film spends more time on Mae’s social media presence, crowding the screen with “zings” (the equivalent of tweets in The Circle universe), rather than resolving the film’s central conflict. While the film tries to highlight our society’s dependence on the internet and a dwindling sense of privacy, it ends with the world in a worse place than where it started. Mae might be the film’s villain or a failure at the heroine; either way her motives and actions are unidentifiable, leaving the audience confused and unsatisfied.

“The Circle” is only remedied by the few humorous scenes that turn this unthrilling thriller into a creepy, cult-like film straight out of an episode of “Portlandia.” Every member of The Circle is a little too excited to be there, yet that groupthink, robot-like, screen-obsessed mentality is too often neglected for an extraneous scene of Mae kayaking.

Overall, “The Circle” is a disappointing and underwhelming criticism of our society’s obsession with constant connectivity. The film tries to dismantle the hierarchy of privacy, yet its idea of conflict resolution just furthers the issues it brings to the surface. “The Circle” begins as a hopeful, pastel-colored infomercial for Silicon Valley’s millennial Disneyland but quickly turns into a poorly developed, shallow and overall transparent film.

 

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