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04 May 2017

Not So Satirical: Despite a Great Cast and an Accomplished Director, 'The Circle' Is a Big Flop

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Tom Hanks, Emma Watson and Patton Oswalt in The Circle. Tom Hanks, Emma Watson and Patton Oswalt in The Circle.

The Circle is a clueless movie based on the novel by Dave Eggers, a lame attempt at satire regarding social networking and the invasion of privacy during this digital age.

The setup is certainly interesting—but the execution seems like something perpetuated by a 14 year-old student who waited until he or she was on the school bus to scribble out a paper on the perils of social networking, just before it was due.

After slaving away at a temp job, Mae Holland (Emma Watson) lands a gig at The Circle thanks to her friend Annie (Karen Gillan), a top player at the company. The Circle is essentially all of today’s ubiquitous tech entities—Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.—wrapped into one. It’s run by a friendly looking, coffee-cup-toting, Steve Jobs-like entity named Bailey (Tom Hanks) and his sidekick, Stenton (Patton Oswalt, aka TV’s Son of TV’s Frank on the new incarnation of Mystery Science Theater 3000).

Mae progresses from being a customer-service rep to being a big player in the company seemingly overnight—and let’s just say that ascension is a wee bit unconvincing. She starts as an apprehensive but competent newbie, who thinks some of what The Circle offers is a bit much and invasive, and suddenly becomes a full-on advocate and believer of what she’s peddling. How does Mae become a pawn in Bailey’s evil scramble for world digital domination? She has a kayaking mishap, and is saved because The Circle had a camera on a buoy in San Francisco Bay.

The film went through some major reshoots, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the kayaking sequence was pushed into the movie as a last-minute plot device. It also wouldn’t be surprising if the kayaking thing was in there from the start, because everything in this movie feels arbitrary and tacked-on.

Mae’s relationship with her friend Annie goes sour with very little warning and no real explanation, other than Annie is envious of Mae’s success. Annie is a pal in one frame, and then an adversary a few frames later. It feels like the movie is missing something with her character. The same thing goes with Mercer (Ellar Coltrane), a friend of Mae’s who takes a lot of flack after she posts a pic of the antler chandelier he made. That flack is mostly from animal activists, as well as, presumably, people who have good taste, because his work is ugly as hell.

Watson’s portrayal of Mae’s turmoil and opinion swings lacks dimension, wit and shock value. Much of this can be blamed on the screenplay, written by Eggers and director James Ponsoldt; it lacks the sort of insight and dark humor this sort of film needs. It’s also possible that the likable Watson lacks the talent to pull off a roll like this—one that requires her to be unlikable in many ways.

The film is clearly aiming for satire, but it has no bite, and its tone is often grating. Sequences like Mae’s interview and job-orientation sessions feel like they belong in another, less-reality-based movie. They are also horribly acted and staged.

This film’s level of stink is stunning, considering that it’s directed by Ponsoldt, who was on a roll after the 1-2-3 punch of Smashed, The Spectacular Now and The End of the Tour. It’s also sad that this is the last film appearance for Bill Paxton, who plays Mae’s ill father. He’s a great actor who deserved a better sendoff than this miserable reunion with Hanks, his Apollo 13 co-star.

For those of you plunking down the bucks to see a Tom Hanks movie, know that he is only in a few scenes—and he, like Watson, looks lost.

The Circle is obnoxious, sloppy and full of aimless arguments that have no true conclusions. You know … it’s like most of your Facebook and Twitter news feeds.

The Circle is playing at theaters across the valley.

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