Disconnect, the feature film directing debut of award-winning documentarian Henry-Alex Rubin, has been getting some fairly positive reviews. According to Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a critical score of 71 while audiences have been even more impressed. The last time I checked, it had an audience score of 83%. If you’ve seen any of the commercials for this film then you’ve undoubtedly heard it referred to as being “the best film of the year.”
That’s high praise for a film that’s essentially Crash with better acting.
Much like Crash (which, incidentally, I consider to be the worst film to have ever won the Oscar for Best Picture), Disconnect is an ensemble film that tells several different stories. For whatever reason, first-time directors seem to have a weakness for movies with ensemble casts and multiple-story lines. When done well, an ensemble film can say something profound about the way that people in a society relate to one another. When done poorly (like in Crash or Disconnect), they just feel trendy. Watching Disconnect, I felt as if the filmmakers couldn’t come up with a way to tell one compelling story from beginning to end so, instead, they just tossed together fragments of three separate stories and then desperately tried to come up with a theme to connect them all.
That theme, by the way, is that our reliance of modern technology has created a society where people are Disconnected from one another.
Gee, you think?
Disconnect tells three separate, inter-connected stories. In one story, Paula Patton and Alexander Skarsgard are a married couple who are struggling to deal with the recent death of their child. Skarsgard deals with his grief by going on long business trips and getting addicted to online gambling. Meanwhile, Patton joins an online support group and finds herself tempted to have affair another member (Michael Nyqvist). Patton’s activities leads to identity theft and bankruptcy. With the help of a sleazy private investigator (Frank Grillo), Patton and Skarsgard try to track down the man who stole their identity. This story falls apart once Patton and Skarsgard find the man and both characters suddenly start acting in the most inconsistent ways conceivable. It really should be impossible t0 make charismatic performers like Alexander Skarsgard and Paula Patton seem bland and boring but somehow, Disconnect manages to do it.
In the film’s best storyline, Grillo’s teenage son (Colin Ford) catfishes and cyber-bullies an alienated classmate (Jonah Bobo). When Bobo hangs himself as a result, Ford is wracked with both guilt and fear. Ford’s attempts to cover-up his involvement leads to him meeting and briefly befriending Bobo’s father (Jason Bateman), who has no idea what led to his son attempting suicide. In this story, Bateman proves that he’s as good with drama as he is with comedy and Ford’s complex and multi-layered performance is more than award-worthy. This was probably the most powerful part of the film and, if the filmmakers had simply concentrated on this story (as opposed to diluting it by making only one part of a multi-part film), Disconnect would fully deserve the high-praise that it’s currently receiving.
In the film’s third (and most flamboyant) storyline, Andrea Riseborough is a cynical and opportunistic reporter who does a story about a cocky teenager (Max Thieriot) who performs on an adults-only site and who recruits other teenagers for a manipulative pimp (played by none other than Marc Jacobs). Riseborough finds herself charmed by the teenager (and who can blame her because, after all, he’s played by Max Thieriot) and soon she’s having an affair with him. However, her news story captures the attention of the F.B.I. and soon both Thieriot and Riseborough find themselves in danger.
At first, I thought I was going to enjoy this storyline because I love Max Thieriot. He’s ideally cast here and he gives a good, sympathetic performance. For that matter, so does Andrea Riseborough and even Marc Jacobs brings a certain reptilian charm to his role. However, this story falls apart as it quickly becomes obvious that the filmmakers, having set up a potentially interesting situation, have no idea what to do with it. Instead, much as with the characters played by Skarsgard and Patton, Riseborough ceases to behave with anything resembling logic or consistency. Both she and Thieriot go from being interesting, well-rounded characters to being mere plot devices.
That, ultimately, is the main reason why Disconnect fails. With the exception of the characters played by Bateman and Ford, nobody in this film feels real and, again with the notable exception of Bateman and Ford’s storyline, very little that happens feels genuine. The film is watchable because of the talented cast but, otherwise, it’s a melodramatic and predictable mess that seems to think that it’s a lot smarter than it actually is.
Perhaps that’s why so many people over on the imdb have been praising this film as “the best of the year.”
Some people will always enjoy feeling like they’re thinking without actually having to do it.