The Circle is a film that takes the idea of connectedness (email, social media, phone, etc.) to its logical and genuinely creepy extension.
Mae is temping as a customer service representative for an unnamed – company and hating it – when a friend gets her an interview at the ultimate social media company, The Circle.
If you walk down any street these days, you will likely see people constantly looking at their phones. Everyone seems to have a Facebook page, a Twitter page, or be connected in any number of ways that seem to be infringing on privacy. Or at least on the surface (most people put their face forward on their various connective sites).
What if, The Circle asks, our level of connectedness reached a sufficient level that we had to be accountable for everything we did? Wouldn’t that be a Good Thing?
When Mae (Emma Watson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) gets the call from her pal Annie (Karen Gillan, Doctor, Guardians of the Galaxy), she’s excited – and her excitement glows through the very curious job interview conducted by Dan (Nate Corddry, Mom, St. Vincent).
Her position with The Circle is essentially the same as her previous temp job, but it’s a world of difference. Customer service is graded – and follow up queries are expected; employees are expected (but not forced) to dial up their social activity within the company, and so forth.
Her new job keeps Mae away from her family – mom Bonnie (Glenne Headley, Monk, The Night Of), dad Vinnie (Bill Paxton’s last filmed performance) and best friend Mercer (Ellar Coltrane (Boyhood) – but she sees plenty of Annie, and is soon one of the inner circle with ideas about taking connectedness and transparency to new levels.
The Circle’s founders – Eamon (Tom Hanks) the folksy front man; Tom (Patton Oswalt), the weasely operations guy, and and Ty (John Boyega) the inventor of TruYou (the Facebook on steroids – a secure one password for everything/online communications IP) – have differing ideas on where the company should be heading. To the point that Ty has gone off the grid and, while he still works at The Circle, he’s an outsider – not really joining in on the company’s social side.
Mae, of course, is a trusting (naïve) soul who finds the connectedness of The Circle to be empowering and soon she’s proposing ideas that go far beyond anything Eamon, Tom or Ty ever dreamed (through the use of tiny cameras that clip on to just about anything) – and the company is even helping deal with her father’s MS!
A meeting with Ty shows Mae that The Circle isn’t quite the wonder she thinks it is, but she’s so caught up in it that it doesn’t really register – though she does promise not to tell anyone what she’s seen.
As Mae becomes more of a force within The Circle, things get tense between her and Annie even though, in every other way things are going swimmingly – until a new product causes a tragedy.
Even in today’s world, where Congress has told internet providers they can sell their customers’ private data, The Circle is a film that should make people think – though at the screening I attended, when the credits started to roll, a number of people whipped out their cell phones and began reading and texting like it was nothing.
Written and directed by James Ponsoldt, The Circle ambles along at the kind of pace Mae takes when she goes for a walk. Danny Elfman’s score is occasionally a bit intrusive, but mostly underscores emotional cues without undermining them.
The use of CG to surround Mae with messages when she does try for 100% transparency is cool and does a good job of letting us know what she’s seeing, feeling, hearing.
Watson gives a note perfect performance as someone young enough to get caught up in something she sees as a grad – even historical – but smart enough to discern that it might not be, after all.
Hanks is epitome of folksy, avuncular wisdom and caring – the face of The Circle. Oswalt has much less screen time, but he just feels subtly weasely – there’s something about his bearing; his less-than-good-natured tone – that lets us know something is hinky well before Mae.
The major problem with The Circle – beyond its being perhaps a little too little a fraction too late – is its pacing. There are a few moments of urgency (as when Mae ‘borrows’ a kayak and sets out onto the bay), but most of the time The Circle… well, circles the drama rather than boring straight through it.
Mae’s final appearance at a Friday meeting (like a TED Talk only just for Circlers) is where the film finally comes together with just the right pace; just the right score, and a subtle bit of work from Watson (it also has the PG-13 film’s one, perfectly timed F-bomb).
The Circle may not be perfect, but it’s timely and bits of it are pure gold.
Final Grade: B+