The Circle is a Laughable Black Hole

The Circle, directed by James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now), is one of the best ‘good-bad’ films of recent memory. Emma Watson stars as Mae, who has recently been hired at the Apple-esque company the Circle, run by Tom Hanks and Patton Oswalt. Don’t be fooled by the poster, though; Tom Hanks is barely in the movie, and his inclusion feels like an afterthought. John Boyega also appears here (because, Star Wars), and Bill Paxton gives the last performance of his career as Mae’s father with M.S.

The main problem with The Circle is that it introduces many different ideas but never actually sets up a conflict or an antagonist. Out of all those different ideas, the introduction of new miniature cameras drives the plot. After a near death experience, Mae decides to wear one of the cameras at all times which is referred to as going “transparent”—*cringe*. Her entire day, aside from three-minute bathroom breaks, is broadcast for all to see. This absence of privacy is obviously problematic, but virtually everyone seems to have no problem with it. The majority of characters in this film are complete idiots, and even argue at one point that voting should be mandatory and facilitated by The Circle. Even after seeing the downsides of transparency, the film never manages to come to a sensible conclusion.

What makes this film so enjoyable is not its quality, but just how laughably bad it is. At the Circle, everyone is encouraged to be heavily involved in social media, but Mae puts this off for a few weeks because she is so interested in her new job. This results in a hilarious conversation between her and two other employees who really want her to set up her social media. Their performance is so hammy and big-eyed that it is sure to get you laughing and annoying your fellow movie-goers.

The film has a problem with introducing too many ideas and not actually developing them. They constantly talk about the miniature cameras, especially the fact that they cost less than a pair of jeans. Yet multiple times, people will be found pulling out their smartphone to record things. There is a subplot introduced early on that makes the company look quite shady, yet this is never expanded upon. One of the more interesting ideas is that tracking people around the globe quickly by simply putting their face out there and letting the internet do the rest. This concept was far more interesting than the others and should have been the premise of the film.

In terms of casting, Emma Watson is your generic choice for when the lead role only entails being a girl. While she isn’t outright bad here, her performance is essentially lifeless. The standouts in this film are her parents though, portrayed by the late-Bill Paxton and Glenne Headly. The film effectively sets up a conflict between their relationship with their daughter and their own privacy. Tom Hanks’ charisma carries him through the role effortlessly but Patton Oswalt feels out of place in his role. Ellar Coltrane, also known as that guy from Boyhood, plays a supporting role and is perfectly average. But the most random cast member is Beck, who shows up to play a concert at a Circle event.

Some may find The Circle to be your average, forgettable movie but it is so much more than that. Its lack of focus and terrible minor character performances make it a worthy addition to the list of good-bad films. While it is not as obvious a choice as The Room or Samurai Cop, this film definitely has many comparable moments to those classics. Hopefully, though, James Ponsoldt gets back on track with his next film, because he has shown talent in the past.

Grade: The Room 2: Electric Boogaloo D

(Featured Image: The Circle, STX Entertainment)

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