Based on Dave Eggers 2013 novel, this is what happens when a totalitarian internet company tries to take over the world. Imagine Google, Facebook, Disney, and Apple all rolled in to one horrific conglomerate… and all done for YOUR benefit! Hmmmm… that does sound familiar, doesn’t it?
Big Brother meet The Circle. It’s a cult-like global internet company that is SO massive and powerful that the U.S. government is afraid of it and their monopoly on everything. They have their hooks into everything and everybody, with millions of customers world-wide using their custom services from e-mail to social media. But now their leader, Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks–doing a hip version of Steve Jobs), introduces to his employees on DreamFriday (their weekly gathering) to the latest: SeeChange. Fully functioning HD cameras the size of grapes that are placed everywhere….and without permission! That’s great, he explains, because now there can be no hiding from the truth!
But this is really Mae Holland’s story. Mae (Emma Watson) is a guppie–new employee–at The Circle, working the lowly customer service desk. She’s got an ex-boyfriend named Mercer (Ellar Coltrane) and two loving parents played by Glenne Headley and the late Bill Paxton. Her dad is struggling with MS. She soon realizes that working there is quite odd, as she’s “expected” to share her entire life, private as well as social, with everyone there on campus, as well as the whole Circle world! Yikes! But she caves in once her new Circle health care package kicks in and her dad’s MS medication arrives. So, that’s a good thing, right? She also has a BFF there, Annie (Karen Gillian) who’s upper tier and waayyyy over-worked.
Her reluctance disappears when she is saved after almost drowning in a midnight kayaking accident. Yup, those hidden cameras captured the whole thing and Mae, drinking the tasty Kool-aid, is now a true believer, despite the doomsday scenario given to her by the real founder of the company, Ty Lafitte (John Boyega). Ty’s been hiding in the shadows keeping an eye on things, but does nothing to stop the insanity. Anyway, Mae goes full tilt and becomes ‘transparent’, becoming a Truman Show candidate; being live-fed 24/7. Double-yikes! She even proposes that the Circle force every person to join them, making it as mandatory as paying taxes.
Pushed on by the Circle’s rambunctious C.O.O. (Patton Oswald), her zeal goes even further with SoulSearch, a live global hunt for anyone, anywhere in real time. But after it tragically backfires, she changes her opinion of the Circle, or does she? The ambiguous ending leaves the viewer to come up with their own finale, since there is no clear one. One thing’s for sure, I’m STILL not removing the black tape from my laptop camera anytime soon!
As much as I love Watson, it’s clear she was miscast here. Mae’s transformation from an unsure and questioning newbie to a sinister megalomaniac (like her boss) doesn’t quite work for Watson. Charming as she is with her credible American accent, her expressions ping-pong without any real emotions. Gillian was better suited for the lead, in my opinion. Faring better are Hanks and Oswald, who just breeze through this like a Sunday afternoon walk in the park. The screenplay, written by author Eggers and director James Ponsoldt, have all the earmarks of The Truman Show, 1984, and a certain Black Mirror episode, is certainly creepy and smacks of what’s happening today, but is sadly lacking the needed one-two punch pay-off at the end.
Ponsdolt (the forgettable Smashed, The Spectacular Now) does have the clever cyber-splicing when Mae is on-line (we see all the pop-up texts), and his DreamFriday (erst-Apple) presentations are nicely filmed, but take away all the fancy-schmancy cyber stuff and the rest is just mediocre. The same can be said for the script, we needed help in cleaning up the repetitive dialoge and dull conversations. If you really want tension and scary privacy internet-intrusion stuff that this story needed to ratchet-up, go back and watch Snowden. And all that was based on the truth.
As George Orwell put it so succinctly in his book, 1984, “Big Brother is watching”, but in this truly creepy and terrifyingly dark and humorous British TV series episode, we find that, not only is Big Brother watching you, but everyone is trying like hell to be okay with that! What’s really scary is, this story is almost too real!
Facebook to the nth degree in a futuristic world where where social status is all; you live, breathe, sleep, and plan your day by your daily popularity status of one to five stars that’s calculated on an ever-changing status logged on your cellphone. Forget that the government is watching you, now you have to deal with every single person you meet! Yikes!! It’s the norm, and everyone tries their utmost to keep their star-status above a 4.0 whenever possible. Here’s where meet Lacie Pound (Bryce Dallas Howard), obsessed with being ‘liked’, but with an approval rating of only 4.2.
She lives with her brother Ryan (James Norton) who has a lower approval rating, but he doesn’t care and doesn’t play ‘the game’. Their condo lease is expiring, and Lacie is eager to move out to the luxurious Pelican Cove, against her brother’s advice. But in order to afford to live there, she must either pay an exorbitant rent or earn a discount by having a rating of 4.5 or above. Ah, but there’s a chance! Naomi (Alice Eve), Lacie’s childhood friend, asks Lacie to be her maid of honor at her wedding, and Naomi has a top rating of 4.8 (not to mention many “upper class” friends!). Lacie believes if she delivers a perfect maid of honor speech, her rating will be pulled up to the 4.5 she needs.
But Murphy’s Law kicks in and everything goes seriously wrong on her way to the wedding: her flight gets cancelled, her rental car dies, her brother gets into an argument with the Pelican Cove people, and more. This causes Lacie’s rating to drop to a perilous 2.6 and, getting drunk, crashes the wedding party and tells off her best friend, making the others there “unlike” her, and having her arrested… making her ranking bottom out at ZERO! However, the ending does have a glimmer of hope, as Lacie, now a dredge of society, realizes what an idiot she’s been in conforming to the others, finds solace in another zero-point cellmate.
Like a Twilight Zone /Outer Limits combined, these Black Mirror episodes are truly outstanding in every way; well written, acted, shot, and thought-provoking. I urge you to binge-watch all three seasons, you’ll be glad you did! This episode, written by Michael Schur (Parks & Recreation) and Rashida Jones (she plays Angie Tribeca on her TV series), makes you feel all icky inside, since the premise alone is close to everyone’s heart: to be ‘liked’ or ‘not liked’. It’s a comedy, sure, but so fiercely dark that you cringe at Howard’s predicament. Damn good writing, damn good acting, and something you will NOT see on American TV, I guarantee you that! Yes, you can Netflix this. Do it!