Starring Jason Bateman, Paula Patton, Frank Grillo, Hope Davis, Max Theriot, Alexander Skarsgard, Michael Nyqvist, Colin Ford, Andrea Riseborough and Jonah Bobo
Written by Andrew Stern
Directed by Henry Alex Rubin
The subject of social media and its positive and negative effects have never been explored successfully on film with the exception of The Social Network presenting a more focused and loosely based biography of Mark Zuckerberg. While I did enjoy The Social Network for its decision to tell the story of the creation of Facebook as a pseudo-super-villain’s rise to power, 2010’s lackluster Catfish is the only other ‘social-network’ film that comes to mind. Like Catfish, Disconnect is a story of the negative effects and darker side of social media, told through the course of three separate storylines that begin to intersect in a similar mold and structure of the Academy Award winning Crash. I did like Disconnect for its message, acting, and most of the story, but an underwhelming climax stopped all forward momentum which had been building rather splendidly for the majority of the film.
The three stories in Disconnect are that of a still-grieving couple (Paula Patton and Alexander Skarsgard) who must deal with online identity-theft, a news journalist (Andrea Riseborough) writing a story involving the online sexual exploitation of a group of youths, and a high-school outcast (Jonah Bobo) who is cyber-bullied and the severe ramifications that echo through the family of the victim (Jason Bateman and Hope Davis) and that of the bully’s (Frank Grillo). These three storylines are so well-crafted and spend ample time developing so many characters, one might presume the story could feel a bit bloated. Thankfully that’s not the case, as Rubin shifts seamlessly from thread to thread allowing all of the actors’ individual moments to really get the point of the film across: as technology advances more and more our lives become more online-dependent and thus, some of our humanity is lost in the process and the growing isolation we feel in today’s society leaves us disconnected from one another.
The acting is the real standout of Disconnect. All of the actors give fantastic performances that help drive the narrative and really pull you into the turmoil, sadness, frustration and anger that permeates throughout the script. Frank Grillo and Paula Patton are the best of the bunch, turning in career best performances as struggling parents, broken in their own individual ways, and are by far the standouts of the film. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Alexander Skarsgard has also delivered a career performance here, much like his memorable turn as Model #3 from Zoolander. All joking aside, there are zero weak points to this film from an acting stand-point, and one can’t help but be fully invested in the well-being of every character represented, good or bad. I applaud Rubin for getting the most out of his actors and delivering a technically proficient look into unexplored subject matter, albeit with one small caveat.
So much of Disconnect hinges on the climax where all of the interwoven stories CRASH into one another, and this is where the film regrettably comes up short. Due to the emotional moments that escalate toward the third act of the film, unlike Crash, the end resolutions just can’t deliver on the strong buildup that preceded it. I won’t spoil any of them, but they’re just so pedestrian and safe that the tension and suspense drawing out lands with a thud. This may have been a decision by the writers to keep the film from becoming a bleak and depressing vantage point from which to view the social media world, but if you’re going to send a bus full of children careening off a cliff-side with no hope of survival, I’d rather the bus hit the ground and explode than become caught in a large tree leaving the children to look at one another and think “aw shucks”. A poor choice of analogy, perhaps. But in the case of Disconnect, I’d say a poor choice of ending.
I still enjoyed the film quite a bit, but I would’ve lauded the filmmaker if he had been daring enough to go all the way with what his script was driving towards. In the end we’re left with an almost-great and very insightful look into the darker side of social media that stumbles slightly at the end, and as a result is ultimately satisfying.