There is no denying that we live in an age where more than ever we are actively pulled out of our real lives and into an alternate one, a digital life. We increasingly live lives where we barely interact with people in person for days yet have an active social life in the ever-increasing digital playground available to us through our phones, computers and tablets. Disconnect explores this world where we are more connected to each other than ever, yet paradoxically disconnected (get it?) at the same time. This somewhat well-told drama does so with mixed results, but it certainly has a point and you’ll know it by film’s end.
It is certainly no exaggeration to refer to Disconnect as “Crash” for the Facebook generation. The two films share many characteristics, which is of course both good and bad. This drama follows the story of several different individuals (or groups of individuals) who all have stories that wind up intertwining in various ways by the end. Also like Crash, Disconnect has a point and it will bludgeon you with it until it is sure that you get it, and then a couple more times just to be sure.
The principle stories of Disconnect are as follows: a family whose corporate lawyer father, Rich Boyd (Jason Bateman), is attached to his phone. Meanwhile, his musical son Ben (Jonah Bobo) winds up the subject of public ridicule when he falls for a fake Facebook profile of a cute girl claiming to like him. One of the boys teasing Ben, Jason Dixon (Colin Ford), is the son of private investigator Mike Dixon (Frank Grillo). Mike is currently investigating the online identify theft of Derek and Cindy Hull (Alexander Skarsgård and Paula Patton). Meanwhile, reporter Nina Dunham (Andrea Riseborough) hopes to further her career with an investigative report about underage online “cam model” Kyle (Max Thieriot). Still following?
Of course, as is the case in all these films, the various characters find things not going the way they intended. While most of what follows can be gleamed from the film’s trailer, the rest of this review will contain some minor spoilers. You have been warned. The prankster’s joke on Ben takes a much more serious turn when a series of photos are traded and then shared amongst Ben’s schoolmates, revealing much more of the shy awkward teenager than he can handle. His suicide attempt spurs most of the characters on a path towards each other and forces a lot of self-reflection of both Rich Boyd and Mike Dixon as parents. Cindy and Derek take a vigilante approach to tracking down their identity thief and are forced to confront their own interpersonal issues while Nina gets in over her head when she can’t separate herself from her story about Kyle.
Obviously, the focus of the story is mostly on the Boyds and the past relationship between Ben and his father Rich. The story of Mike Dixon and his son Jason ties in most closely to it and is also featured heavily. Derek and Cindy’s story is much less connected (mostly in passing) and much less featured but is arguably one of the more interesting stories of the film. Meanwhile Nina and Kyle’s story, though very interesting, is connected to the others really only in theme; despite this, it is still a substantial part of the overall film.
If it isn’t somewhat obvious from reading this, writing this review is difficult. I have actually sat on this review for some time, pondering exactly what I thought of the film. Ultimately, I’ve decided that while parts of it maintained my interest for quite some time, the sum of the whole is lacking. Nina and Kyle’s story is probably the most interesting. Sadly, it is so (ironically) disconnected from the other plots of the film that despite being arguably the best part of the film it actually weakens the film with its presence. Much the same can be said for Cindy and Derek’s adventure in vigilantism. As the story progresses it becomes more apparent why these two are together and there are some gripping moments as the two unknowingly work to repair their marriage while they think they are working to catch the identify thief. Again though, this story seems so separated from the others that despite being enjoyable it messes up the overall flow of the other stories.
The trials of the Boyd family is certainly heart wrenching, and the connection to the Dixons reaches a satisfying conclusion, but it is little more than a glorified after school special. Remember that PSA commercial where a teenage girl is suddenly petrified to find that a photo of her from a party is spreading around her school? Yeah, take that and make it roughly 45 minutes long and you have half of Disconnect. That isn’t even taking into account that it simply goes on for far too long. The story of Ben Boyd is hitting you on the head with the topic at hand more than the others and it wears thin as a result.
While the story borders on fragmented and occasionally cheesy, the performance of pretty much every actor in the film is solid. Jason Bateman turns in a respectable performance as Rich Boyd in a role that has little to no comedic lines for a change, and the chemistry between Andrea Riseborough and Max Thieriot as Nina and Kyle plays almost perfectly for the part. Young Colin Ford in particular does an incredible job as the bully turned guilt-ridden teenager, and is arguably the stand out performance of the film; in no small part because he holds his own amongst many far more established actors. The film’s disappointments do not lay in the performance of the talent on screen.
Disconnect is one of those films that has a premise, and a name, far more clever than the actual substance that makes it up. People are too disconnected from each other so they turn to online relationships in order to connect, and this sometimes has horrible consequences. This is something we all know, as just about any human contact, ever, has the potential for draw back. Disconnect’s approach to the subject, though, borders on after school special and the choice to focus so much attention on the less interesting half of the story is unfortunate. In the end, Disconnect is the kind of film that crowds may flock to (a relatively notable list of actors in an ensemble story with a message that seems deep but is really kind of shallow), but most people leave not even sure if they enjoyed it or not. At least that was this reviewer’s opinion. Watchable, but hardly the riveting drama it sets out to be.
Final Rating: 6.5/10
CBR Break Down:
How it was viewed: Theater
Running time: 115 min
Starring: Jason Bateman, Hope Davis, Jonah Bobo, Frank Grillo, Paula Patton, Andrea Riseborough, Alexander Skarsgård, Max Thieriot, Colin Ford
Directed by: Henry Alex Rubin
Recommend viewing: Home, no reason to see this in theaters
Current price: N/A
Why you should see it: Some terrific performances and the fact it is just good enough that some people will be talking about it sooner or later.
Why you shouldn’t see it: It is really a glorified after school special.