We unplug our phone from the charger, pop in our ear buds and go out to seize the day. We text compulsively, post on Facebook obsessively, and when it comes time to shop, date or hook-up, we log on, boot up and tune out.
That’s the world we’re living in and the dilemma skewered in “Disconnect,” a “Crash”-style polemic told through a series of interwoven stories about teens, couples and families strained by the lack of communication in this Golden Age of Information.
It’s a blunt instrument of a movie, and often melodramatic. But it sometimes moves and often hits its target square on the nose.
DIRECTED BY: Henry Alex Rubin
STARRING: Jason Bateman, Hope Davis, Andrea Riseborough, Max Thierot, Paula Patton, Alexander Skarsgard, Frank Grillo, Colin Ford and Jonah Bobo
RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes
Paula Patton and Alexander Skarsgard play a broken couple, struggling with finances and grief. They lost a baby. She’s seeking solace in online chat rooms, maybe more than solace. Then, their identities are stolen and they tumble into the humiliation of full disclosure about what each of them has been doing online, and the helpless financial insecurity brought on by an online predator.
Jason (Colin Ford) and Frye (Aviad Bernstein) are 15-year-old kids with a cruel streak. Their practical jokes range from urinating into beer bottles they return to convenience stores to inventing a fake online girlfriend to bully a sensitive loner, Ben (Jonah Bobo).
Ben lives with digitally distracted parents (Jason Bateman and Hope Davis) and an older, phone-obsessed sister (Haley Ramm), so an online girlfriend would be a blessing. If she were real.
Jason is acting out, doing something that would freak out his cyber-crimes detective dad (Frank Grillo).
And speaking of cyber crimes, Nina (Andrea Riseborough) is an ambitious and ethically suspect TV reporter who solicits cybersex from a boy toy, Kyle (Max Thierot), pimped out in a house full of live teens on live sex cams. She wants a career-making story, and he’s intrigued by the chance to score with “a puma,” a somewhat older woman who isn’t quite a “cougar.” But she is touched by his creepy, digital online life.
Loneliness runs through this cast of characters, and it’s only when tragedy or near-tragedy strikes that these muted, removed people start to feel and behave in recognizably human ways. The aimless, clueless kids are tech savvy but infantile in their understanding of the world. The adults are no better, lashing out with incomplete information, tuned out of each other’s and their kids’ lives.
The connections among characters are often melodramatic coincidences, and the whole online sex thing is played to the salacious hilt. But there isn’t a bad performance in “Disconnect,” and some (a brittle Bateman, and Ramm, as his character’s heartbroken daughter) are quite moving.
As is the movie. And the message, as heavy-handed as it is, is a winner. Go out, socialize, buy a ticket and see it in a theater. Don’t wait to watch this one on your smart phone.