Lost souls grasp for the unattainable in one of the year’s most sublime and powerful films
You don’t experience many movies like this coming out of Hollywood lately, so when you do, it’s best to take notice and relish the journey. Much like Crash exposed the decay of social mores with its colliding parallel storylines, Disconnect brilliantly captures the lack of real connection taking place in a world that, ironically, appears to be more “connected” through technology.
But, as we have already come to realize, the vast majority of modern-day folks aren’t more “connected” at all. In fact, many of them (us) have become tragically more disconnected, and here, we find a gaggle of loose, oftentimes lost souls searching for something substantial that they can’t quite articulate. Yearning for a relic—that physical, meaningful tête–à–tête, now shuddered and hidden in the invisible ethers of cyberspace—they wander through their days in a kind of Walking Dead trance, continually reaching for something that never quite satisfies them.
This emotionally rich film comes from Henry-Alex Rubin, whose previous credits include Murderball and the little-known gem, Who Is Henry Jaglom? It could be argued that Rubin uses too many broad melodramatic strokes in conceptualizing screenwriter Andrew Stern’s script but that would not be a fair assessment of what both screenwriter and director have created, which, in effect, is a modern-day opera playing itself out on screen.
Jonah Bobo (Crazy Stupid Love) stands out prominently in the film as Ben. As a loner teen, he doesn’t quite fit in among his peers and when two of his classmates create a fake online profile of a young girl and lure him into online chats, Ben eventually lets down his guard long enough and slowly grows to feel understood. But the game throws young Jason (Colin Ford), one of the boys fooling him, off track. Their chats—about life, about parents—strike a chord and he begins to see they may be more similar than different.
Ben’s parents—played by Jason Bateman and Hope Davis—mirror today’s strained family. Bateman plays an overworked attorney who can’t seem to take much time away from work, his SmartPhone or emails, and Davis longs for the nuclear family that went, well, nuclear. Meanwhile Jason’s detective father, played to winning ends by Frank Grillo (Zero Dark Thirty, Gangster Squad), struggles to raise his son solo after the death of his wife. He, too, can’t seem to make any real connection with his son. His latest job finds him trying to help a married couple (Alexander Skarsgård and Paula Patton), still struggling over the death of their baby, as they find themselves suddenly caught in the treacherous waters of identity theft.
Rounding out this wild, psychological roulette is Nina (Andrea Riseborough), a sharp, ambitious television reporter hoping to land the mother of all stories—exposing predators recruiting teen girls and boys into online porn. Her online chats with 18-year-old Internet sex model, Kyle (an effective Max Thierot) is all research, until the two meet. She convinces Kyle to open up and tell his story but neither of them can predict what ripple effect it will create for both of them.
As a director, Rubin evokes from his actors some of the most raw performances seen on screen this year. It’s a shame this film didn’t come out last fall because I fear it will be forgotten come Oscar time. Jason Bateman, who managed to transform his career from sitcom gumshoe to one of today’s more grounded big-screen comic foils, delivers one of the finest performances of his career in a dramatic role. Watch how well he handles his character being stripped of his armor. And Paula Patton is a refreshing surprise. As the forlorn mother and wife desperate to come to terms with the death of her child, her online connection in a chat room for the grieving opens up a Pandora’s box of unresolved issues that she and her husband have been unable to deal with. In the meantime, the on-screen dynamic between Thierot and Riseborough is unique and handled with such believability you walk away longing for more scenes like these in today’s films.
Haunting in how well it mirrors a point in time of human “evolution,” Disconnect also manages to persuade you into believing that there is an emotional road back toward the center, where one-on-one, real- time connection still exists. But it never suggests that that road is easy to find. How could it be with all of the roadblocks and detours now blocking its path?
★★★★ (out of four)
With Jason Bateman, Hope Davis, Frank Grillo, Max Theirot, Andrea Riseborough, Alexander Skarsgård and Paula Patton. Written by Andrew Stern. Directed by Henry-Alex Rubin
(R) 115 minutes.