The Circle: Techno-Thriller Spins its Wheels into Unintentional Comedy

2 out of 5 stars (has some good moments, but is overall bad)

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Watching The Circle is like listening to someone who believes they are extremely knowledgeable about a certain subject, but in reality are spouting arguments that are as obvious as the sun.  They think you’ve never heard their points before, and you will thus be blown away by their statements.  You listen as a courtesy, deep down just wanting to see how insane the discussion can get.  The Circle is the living embodiment of that person, a film with several fascinating ideas that has no idea of how to cohesively explore them.  Add in some laughable dialogue, a sprinkling of less-then-stellar acting, and an ending that completely undermines what little story was there to begin with, and you have what is in my opinion the best comedy of 2017 (if unintentionally).

What little narrative we have follows Mae (a continuously accent-swapping Emma Watson), a woman searching for a job with better health benefits so that she may pay for her father’s MS medical bills (Bill Paxton in his final role).  When she’s not working at what I assume is an accounting firm, she either hangs out with her childhood friend Mercer (a knee-slappingly bad Ellar Coltrane) or goes kayaking.  And I hope you find those traits endearing, because that’s all the “development” we get on Mae before the plot starts.  Joy.

Mae’s luck changes when her workaholic friend Annie (Karen Gillian just biding her time until a better movie offer comes her way) suggests she apply for “The Circle”, a Facebookesque company run by the charismatic Bailey (Tom Hanks doing his best Steve Jobs impression).  Mae lands the job, but is soon unsettled by the odd (and frankly intrusive) behavior of her coworkers.  This includes: asking why she didn’t post about going kayaking last weekend, the company somehow knowing about her father’s medical problems without her telling them, and Bailey somehow being allowed to post several cameras at random locations around the state so the company can remain “connected” to everyone.  Only Ty Lafitte (a miscast John Boyega) seems to realize how bad this company is, and warns Mae of its (thinly veiled) nefarious intentions.  However, Mae is being tempted by Bailey and others around her, forcing to choose between compromising her moral compass or going along with the pack.

This movie is an absolute riot.  Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, and Karen Gillian do what they can with the material, but simply cannot make it work.  As well, characters come in and out of the film randomly, making it impossible to tell who we’re supposed to be invested in.  I won’t care about your characters if I don’t get to know them.  In writing this review, I honestly had to Google most of the character’s names due to how forgettable they were.

I could forgive the scant characterization if the plot was any good, but it feels like vital parts of the movie have been cut out, leading to nonsensical developments and a laughably on-the-nose message about the dangers of technology.  There are four or five TEDTalk-like scenes where Tom Hanks informs an audience of “innovations” that would have him arrested if this film existed in anything resembling the real world.  I understand it’s meant to be a warning to us, but the film is only preaching to the choir.  Now more than ever we are aware of how intrusive technology is, and this movie could have said something new to make us really think about whether or not we want that intrusiveness.  However, it chooses to simply make points we already know in ways that make after school specials look deep or intelligent.

The Circle is a well-intentioned, but horrendously executed film that becomes the funniest unintentional comedy since The Room.  Its points are painfully obvious, its acting stale, and its dialogue flat-out hilarious in its pretentiousness.  However, I would recommend it to anyone looking for a good laugh with some friends.  Trust me, it’s worth it.

Rated PG-13 for a Sexual Situation, Brief Strong Language and some Thematic Elements including Drug Use

This title is available on Amazon here


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