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THE CIRCLE Doesn’t Really Have Much to Say (Tribeca Review)

THE CIRCLE Doesn’t Really Have Much to Say (Tribeca Review)

The Circle can’t exactly be accused of having nothing going on upstairs. Our journey alongside Emma Watson‘s nubile young desk jockey, hired at the beginning of the story by the titular Google-sized and social media-oriented megacorporation, careens through plenty of intrinsically meaty speculative sci-fi concepts and sociopolitical quandaries. In its considerably breezy 110 minutes, The Circle touches on questions about surveillance and privacy, corporate-government fusion, and the affects of digital immersion on our lives and self-worth. The problem is that these aren’t questions that can be satisfyingly touched on and let to rest, but that’s really all the movie does.

Although Dave Eggers published the novel The Circle just four years back, our world has since stridden with great haste toward the reality his pages projected. There’s very little onscreen in The Circle that reads as too big a leap to accept as inevitability, let alone an immediate possibility. And yet, the film seems satisfied to merely acknowledge the existence of its concept, the spotlighted likes of which include omnipresent cameras and human identities enveloped by online ranking systems.


The film’s central conceit kicks in when Mae (Watson), who evolves rather quickly from disconnected outlier to the veritable face of the Circle, agrees to transmit her every waking moment to a ‘round-the-clock live video feed for all Circle users to view and interact with, all in the name of the company’s maxim of total connectivity. While the turn reaps an amusing bounty of kooky internet comments, popping up onscreen alongside Mae’s any given activity—no matter how banal—it barely skirts the ramifications of this kind of especially drastic submission to the social media sphere.

Though Mae functions essentially as the everywoman, both befuddled and seduced by the increasingly cliquey changing world, the characters who surround her essentially stand in for platitudes. Tom Hanks, always an amicable screen presence, serves as the Circle’s answer to Steve Jobs—a media-savvy zealot whose only drive is to extend and expand his company’s reach as far and wide as possible. As the company’s co-head, Patton Oswalt, though someone I’m always happy to see onscreen, isn’t asked to contribute much more than a supplement to Hanks’ subdued villainy. Rounding out the Circle staff are Karen Gillan as Mae’s workaholic colleague and friend and John Boyega as a reformed tech genius who sees the peril in the Circle’s increasing might.


What exactly that peril is, however, the film never seems too interested in digging into. What we’re treated to instead of furtive examinations of these larger philosophical problems are vague and ominous diatribes and a few isolated episodes of tech-adjacent misfortune. All that and a cockeyed conclusion lend to a film that feels decidedly unprepared to handle its subject matter.

And yet, The Circle doesn’t quite skulk by without a fair dose of entertainment. Though often self-serious, the movie’s more humorous jabs at Silicon Valley culture and the cesspool that is the typical online comment forum are its most enjoyable assets. Frankly, these hints of cleverness make me curious about if a devotedly comedic adaptation of The Circle might not have been a more successful, and probably even more insightful, endeavor. Given that the wealth of the film’s best social commentary comes through in joke form, I certainly have to wonder.

Rating: 2 out of 5

2 burritos

Images: EuropaCorp/STX Entertainment

Michael Arbeiter is the East Coast Editor for Nerdist and spends way too much time on the internet. Find Michael on Twitter @micarbeiter.

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