Beware, Young Kayaker!

The Circle Is Full of Confusing Messages


Do you like Black Mirror but wish it was far, far less interesting and clever? Do you think more movies these days need multiple fake TED Talks segments? Do you consider kayaking a suitable major plot point? If so, you’re probably still not going to like The Circle, a laborious and excitement-free chore destined to inspire deep conversations; conversations like whether Tom Hanks will ever do anything good again, whether Emma Watson is preposterously overrated as an actress or just mildly overrated and whether John Boyega was doing that weird nerd voice for funsies or for serious.

Nothing happens in The Circle, so delivering this synopsis feels as meaningless as constituents voicing heartfelt personal concerns to a member of congress. Watson plays Mae, a subpar American accent shaped like a person. Her dear friend, Annie (Karen Gillan), gets her a job at The Circle, which is a tech company that resembles what would happen if Google ever got Apple pregnant.

Hanks plays Eamon Bailey, who is fairly explicitly an evil—or more accurately, “eviler”—Steve Jobs. Bailey wants to put cameras everywhere to record everything because he is to personal data what the Cookie Monster was to cookies back before O was for “obesity.” After an ill-conceived kayak excursion goes terribly wrong, Bailey convinces Mae to go full Truman Show. She becomes the poster child for constant surveillance. Nothing sinister, significant or passably interesting happens, unless you have a weird thing for laughably bad monologues.

Director James Ponsoldt cowrote the script with Dave Eggers, who wrote the source novel and apparently had a hard time letting even a single word from his book go. It’s hard to think of a movie with more spoken dialogue that contains less meaning or plot fuel. Maybe the source material did a better job communicating if it was intended to be a satire of the modern technological panopticon or a sincerely contemplative look at personal privacy rights. Odds are dead even that we’ll get a McSweeney’s piece titled “The Circle Really Made Me Rethink My Facebook Account.”

Movies that attempt to tackle technology-based fears and provide commentary on “of the moment” social fads inevitably feel dated, almost by the time they’re released into theaters. Just ask Sandra Bullock how kind time has been to The Net. That’s not to say there aren’t ways to extrapolate and fictionalize the bigger questions posed by contemporary issues, only that having Watson talk about digital “frowns” and “smiles” is a half-step from naming a movie, You’ve Got Mail. Have you learned nothing, Tom Hanks?

Ponsoldt’s last film, The Spectacular Now, wasted the talented Shailene Woodley and was the kind of film so stealthily misogynistic that many praise it as a “beautiful” and “touching” “love story,” without ever realizing how gross it is. The Circle is a step up, in that nobody will praise it for much of anything and it isn’t offensive. It’s just barbarically boring, laughably self-important and sure to be soon forgotten. Just ask Jeeves.

Grade = D


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