All images courtesy STX
Dave Eggers is one of the most celebrated writers of our time — and I haven’t read a single novel by him. But based on what I have heard about him and read about his intricate works, he has a very specific kind of audience. I picture an Eggers fan as a Berkeley grad with a degree in Liberal Arts. He or she can discuss the ins and outs of current events and obscure literature while having cup of slow-drip coffee with friends, making kombucha or sipping on a local green juice at a juice shop where everything is locally sourced. In other words, I imagine that some — not all — of Eggers’ readers are that kind of intellectual. That said, I would think that his novels are difficult to adapt to the big screen — and THE CIRCLE is a prime example.
Directed by James Ponsoldt from a script that he co-wrote with Eggers, The Circle immediately feels like a movie about cults. And in its own way, it is. The story follows Mae (Emma Watson) who, with the help of her spunky BFF Annie (Karen Gillan), lands a job the tech and social media The Circle. While learning the ropes, she quickly gains the attention of her peers and the company’s Steve Jobs-esque founder Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks). When she agrees to do an experiment where her life is transparent and constantly documented via a body cam, she reaches peak popularity not only among her co-workers but also among “Circlers” all over the world. Her life begins to take a turn for the better as she is doing something she loves and she can care for her mother (Glenne Headly) and her father (the late Bill Paxton in his last movie), who is living with multiple sclerosis. But while enjoying this notoriety, the experiment and the inner-workings of the Circle begin to push the boundaries of privacy, ethics, and her personal life and freedom.
The Circle brings some very timely and heady topics to the forefront and even though I haven’t read the book from which it was adapted, I can already tell that this movie doesn’t do justice to its source material.
As a movie, The Circle doesn’t present anything fresh or new that Black Mirror hasn’t already done (and better, I might add). It gives us another portrait of how technology and social media, when used irresponsibly and selfishly, can make us all horrible pieces of garbage. Mae enters the Circle with wide-eyed enthusiasm and at one point, literally drinks the Kool-Aid and buys into all the Silicon Valley perks and malarkey the institution is serving her. But as she gets more involved, things aren’t all as they seem (no surprise there). And when she befriends co-worker Ty (John Boyega), things start to get juicy and she begins to see the shadiness of the Circle. If anything, the film touches on moral dilemmas when it comes to technology and presents the argument of should things be done for the greater good or the greater individual. Again, it tackles some philosophical quandaries that may have been too big for this movie to handle — and it’s probably why they handled them very lightly. In turn, it wasn’t the sexy, techno-thriller it claims to be. It’s predictable, forgettable, and ends unceremoniously.
As Mae, Watson doesn’t exceed or fall short of expectations — and that’s pretty much the end of it. The Harry Potter alum has yet to hit a stride when it comes to a career-defining performance. She hasn’t found her stride when it comes to picking roles. As seen with The Circle and her more recent role in Beauty and the Beast, she lacks the ability to fully inhabit a role. It always feels as if she is acting — and with a lead role like this, it isn’ exactly ideal. She’s always “good enough.” Her co-stars Tom Hanks and John Boyega give what they can to their roles, but if you’re expecting them to appear on screen the majority of the 110-minute run time, then you’re expecting way too much. Although they play major roles, they don’t leave much of an impression. They are more plot points rather than characters.
If anything The Circle definitely captures the spirit of the Silicon Valley landscape with its fictitious Apple/Google/Facebook/Twitter-like company. With its outrageously large Circle campus that encourages you to stay at work ALL THE TIME, cush perks, and employees who are overly enthusiastic about the company culture, the movie essentially skewers real-life tech companies which makes me think that The Circle could have easily been a comedy. Nonetheless, Ponsoldt’s adaptation of Eggers book is interesting, but you probably aren’t going to like it.
Running time: 110 minutes
Dino watches too much TV, enjoys reality singing competitions and laughs inappropriately during dramatic films. He’s a fan of comedy, podcasts, and comedy podcasts. He’s a reformed comic book geek and thinks “The Goonies” is the best movie of all time. When he isn’t stuffing his face with a burrito, he’s thinking about his next trip to Disneyland.
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Dino-Ray Ramos | Film Critic