The Circle: Otherwise Known as Hermione Works at Google

The Circle Plot Summary:

When Mae (Emma Watson) is fortunate enough to get a job at The Circle, the most innovative and cutting edge internet company in the world, she’s quickly brought into the forefront by the CEO’s. While gaining popularity by testing their newest product, Mae slowly realizes the dangers of the company’s intrusion of privacy.

When super likable bright young Mae interviews for a much sought after entry level position at The Circle, the interviewer asks what she’s most scared of. Calm, cool and collected, Mae answers “unfulfilled potential.” That pretty much sums up the movie.  There’s a great film lurking in here somewhere, and at times, it delivers some pretty brilliant observations about social media and how stuff like iPhones, iCameras, iHoneyNutCheerios are taking over our lives. While this topic has been done a few times, its subject matter I’ll never tire of, as this stuff frightens the gigabytes out of me.  Unfortunately, The Circle is rattled with bad performances, sloppy writing and a story that teeters out like a puff of smoke.

It’s impossible not to like Emma Watson. Even in the first couple scenes where Mae is kind of annoying, you still like Emma Watson. Right off the bat, the movie gives you a good sense of where this character is in life. This is where the writing is at its strongest.  She’s the 24-ish college grad who probably majored in philosophy or something, and is now working for the Department of Water and Power handling billing complaints. Unlike most millennials though, she’s not complaining, or bitter. She works hard, and does what she needs to do. That alone is why you like the character.  She also has to deal with a tough family situation, as her dad, played by the late Bill Paxton, is inflicted with multiple sclerosis.

Through a friend (Karen Gillan), Mae gets an interview for a sales job at The Circle, a company that is like Google, Facebook and Twitter rolled into one super internet giant.  She obviously gets the job, and the company looks like the greatest place on earth to work at, even getting Beck to perform concerts at their college like campus.  The elevator looks like a CGI planet from Star Wars. For the next fifteen minutes, you aren’t really sure where the movie is going.  It’s just a mediocre story about a young woman starting a new job. It’s not until Mae is grilled about her social media page where you finally get it. This one scene is both the movie’s biggest strength and weakness.

Mae is doing nothing wrong. She’s just trying to learn her new job when these uppity ass bags start hammering her about why she hasn’t completed her stupid Circle social profile, or why she didn’t attend any of the weekend events. This is basically like a millennial yelling at you for not tweeting enough. This person is just trying to do her job, and she’s being interrogated about nonsense. This scene is honestly my worst nightmare, and I identified a lot with this stuff. The problem is it’s way too over the top.  The dialogue is absurd, and the two actors come off as cartoon characters. That’s the whole point though.  While the absurdity works at times, this film would have been better served if they played it more realistic.

This movie has a lot to say about social media and technology becoming a required part of your life. That’s rich subject matter. The problem is it gets progressively more insane. It’s also very scattered. The movie makes it seem like Mae is going in one direction when she meets John Boyega’s character, who’s laughably underdeveloped, but through a couple awkwardly placed plot points, Mae does a complete 180. When Mae is first brought into the inner circle of the Circle, she agrees to a slightly exaggerated invasion of privacy, but it’s not totally ridiculous. Okay, that’s interesting. They can work with this. Later in the film though, it goes completely off the rails into looney land. Any cogent point the film wanted to make is lost through its total absurdity.

They play up the antagonists as if they were Batman villains. The Circle is literally the League of Shadows if it were run by Google. Tom Hanks and Patton Oswalt are great as the slimy, unsettling CEO cult leaders, but a lot of the other actors don’t fare as well.

Ellar Coltrane plays Mercer, Mae’s childhood friend who is super anti-technology and can actually fix cars and build things.  I like the idea of this character, but the performance is horrendous.  In the big blow up scene between him and Mae, we are talking middle school drama level acting.  You can’t take it seriously.  When I looked up at who the actor was, I couldn’t believe it.  It’s the kid from Boyhood!  I’ve definitely seen Coltrane act well, so it’s definitely on the director.

And that’s ultimately who’s to blame for this exceptionally uneven film. The director.  James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now) also co-wrote the script, and the pacing is no prize either.  The ending just happens, and seems about as anti-climactic as beating Glass Joe from Punch-Out!

It’s a shame. I can absolutely see why this movie got made, and if given to David Fincher or Bennett Miller, we could have been talking one of the best movies of the year. Instead, we get this. It’s worth checking out on VOD for a few thought provoking discussion points, but that’s where the intrigue ends.

Rating: 6 out of 10 (“Meh”)

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.