Can we circle back and cancel the green light for this movie?

Can we circle back and cancel the green light for this movie?
Can we circle back and cancel the green light for this movie?

‘The Circle’

Starring: Tom Hanks, Emma

Watson, Patton Oswalt

Directed by: James Ponsoldt

Rated: PG-13


Intended as a cautionary tale about the intrusion of social media technology in our personal lives, this is nothing more than a clumsy melodrama that would have fit better into the Lifetime schedule than a theater release.

It’s very rare for Tom Hanks to pick a loser, but this is certainly one. He plays a Steve Jobs-like Svengali who runs the largest tech company in the world known as The Circle. Located near San Francisco, the huge campus where everyone works is like a utopian dream for an employee. It’s a heavenly place where the TGIF after-work party features Beck live in concert and the drinks flow freely and everybody is constantly connected to other employees via social media, which they are encouraged and expected to use as much as they can.

Mae Holland (Emma Watson) gets a chance to be a part of The Circle when her friend Annie (Karen Gillan) helps her get a job. In no time flat, Mae’s indoctrination is complete and she really buys in to the culture that Eamon Bailey (Hanks) has created. And that’s the problem with this movie: Mae drinks the Kool-Aid before the powder has even dissolved.

What sucks her deeper in is the medical insurance offered to her parents (Bill Paxton in one of his last movies, and Glenne Headly), which is a godsend due to her father’s advancing multiple sclerosis. Even when Mae meets the mysterious Ty Lafitte (John Boyega), the super coder who is helping create a system that will know your every move, she’s more star struck than alarmed by what The Circle is actually up to.

Eamon and his partner, Tom Weston (Patton Oswalt), seem kind of shady, but it’s never made clear to what degree. They make a lot of sidelong glances to each other, and they do hassle a congresswoman because she’s calling for an investigation of The Circle’s overreaching power, but that doesn’t seem nearly as Draconian as this wants them to be.

Mae gets drawn deeper in when she has to be rescued from a kayak accident in SF Bay while The Circle’s new invention, a button camera, captures the whole incident and broadcasts it. The stream goes viral, making her an Internet star. Eamon, seeing opportunity, asks Mae to go for full transparency and to wear the new “SeeChange” camera 24/7 as a model for the future.

I think we all know that’s not a good idea, but Mae jumps right in and the whole experiment ends up with the kind of disastrous results you would imagine. There is something oddly detached about this movie, besides the clumsy direction of Ponsoldt, who wrote the script with author Dave Eggars, whose novel this is based on. If it can be believed, Emma Watson is more animated here than she was in “Beauty and the Beast.” At least in this, she smiles occasionally — when The Circle isn’t invading her privacy.

The production values make everything look hazy, and the score from Danny Elfman is unusually weak, and at times oddly incongruent with the action on screen. It’s almost like everyone worked on their part separately and it was patched together in the editing process. I doubt this is what actually happened, but it’s a decent explanation.