A waste of prime potential.
A movie like The Circle kind of just makes you feel sad when it’s all over. It’s not an emotional experience by any means, because this movie doesn’t have any storytelling considerations on its mind. The Circle just makes you regret spending the two hours and X amount of dollars to give it a shot. Even the biggest stars and top production values can’t resuscitate a dead horse, and the flies start buzzing around The Circle pretty early on.
Mae (Emma Watson) is a mild-mannered young woman working a dead-end job before she’s hooked up with a gig at “The Circle” by her friend Annie (Karen Gillan). This booming company is an over the top mecca of millennial wet dreams that strikes unexpectedly sublime notes of satire. There’s dog yoga, free concerts performed by Beck, and everyone seems to spend more time hanging out and doing whatever instead of actually working. People at the company come off as creepy and brainwashed, even if Mae can’t see it and signs her life away to the cult of The Circle.
The company is led by a charismatic Steve Jobs-meets-Charles Manson tech pusher played by Tom Hanks. Mae is immediately struck by the shiny promises of her employer and by The Circle’s widening influence on the world. She becomes the new social media face of the company by going “transparent” and broadcasting every waking second of her life to millions of viewers worldwide. Each and every moment is shared like a narcissistic Truman Show for the Facebook live feed crowd.
The plot contains at least a dozen non-starters that take the movie nowhere. John Boyega (from Star Wars: The Force Awakens) shows up as a mysterious wunderkind but his character severely underserves the talented actor. The same can be said for Hanks and Watson – two of the world’s most eminently likable stars who can’t ignite any sparks with this soggy kindling. It’s not the fault of the performers but rather the fractured screenplay and director James Ponsoldt’s unstable handle on tone.
Boyega’s character has one weird-ass behavioral shift during the course of a single scene that’s almost like something out of Get Out; it’s a moment that once again hints at some ideas worth exploring but the filmmakers fail to find a natural place for it within the story. He fares better than poor Ellar Coltrane (aka the kid we watched grow up in Richard Linklater’s Boyhood). Coltrane apparently can’t act his way out of a paper bag. He’s a dud. The late Bill Paxton appears as Mae’s dad in an unfair final big screen role.
Perhaps most unfortunate of all is that The Circle squanders a wry performance from Patton Oswalt. He clearly sees the undertones of black comedy and satire and brings it overtly to the surface. It’s a shame the film itself doesn’t get on the comedian’s tonal wavelength.
The Circle certainly looks slick and has some nice production values. Also of note are some amusing on-screen comments from trolls watching Mae’s live feed. Without entering into spoilers, there are some interesting ideas that tease your mind with possibilities about Mae’s arch. But all these glimmers of hope are dashed in a confounding rushed and off kilter final act.
One could suppose the film was pitched as a sort of Divergent meets The Social Network meets Her. On paper it doesn’t sound completely horrible and the film’s source novel by Dave Eggers likely presents itself with far more coherence and clarity than the muddled mess this adaptation provides. The movie wants to say everything about society’s relationship with technology without ever locking down a singular identity of its own.
There are enough quality elements in play here that it feels completely disheartening to imagine a better scenario for this to all work out. A straight-up satire could’ve had a real bite to it, or an insidious paranoid thriller might have gripped audiences’ fears. But The Circle can’t make up its goddamn mind about what it wants to be and winds up being a whole lot of nothing as a result. It’s soulless despite displaying ample personality and potential in its individual components.
For all its talk of linking the world together, The Circle is unable to make any sort of real connection. There are a handful of well-executed scenes that work well enough when taken individually and out of context but nothing in this movie makes the math work out; its dumbass lame ending isn’t going to rush you out of the theater feeling fulfilled. The Circle is straight up bad.
Dan is a lifelong movie geek who's been a projectionist, critic, director, (accidental) actor, and writer in the industry since E.T. phoned home. He currently lives in Vancouver and doesn’t get outside nearly as much as he should.