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The Circle starring Emma Watson & Tom Hanks: My take on the movie #book2movies

Emma Watson’s face says it all.

I’m so disappointed. Despite a very low score of 17 on Rotten Tomatoes, we went to see The Circle yesterday. While I called the book by Dave Eggers heavy handed, I thought the sci fi premise was promising enough to make an excellent thriller. The cast was a huge plus: Oscar winning Tom Hanks as the head of the Facebook-like company gone amok, Emma Watson as Mae Holland, the earnest, hard-working millennial employee swept up in helping the company achieve its socially conscious goals of connectivity and transparency. 

The cast includes John Boyega the rising Star Wars star, respected comedian and actor Patton Oswalt as The Circle co-founder, and Ellar Coltrane, the young actor who we saw grow up onscreen in Boyhood as Mae’s ex-boyfriend Mercer. Even Bill Paxton, in one of the last roles of his career. The director, James Ponsoldt, is a respected director in the indie film world with both The Spectacular Now and The End of the Tour earning praise.  

What could go wrong? 

Everything. Well, almost. Hanks is Hanks, meaning when he walks onstage in front of an audience of employees as a Steve Jobs/Zuckerberg type, he brings along a lifetime of believability in his pocket. Do we buy him as the head of a behemoth communications company spreading the good word of constant openness? Of course we do. His mantra “Knowing more is good, knowing everything is better’’ actually sounds right, coming out of Hanks’s everyman’s mouth. His employees clap wildly in agreement, and those of us watching in the theater agree. We’re excited, intrigued.

Poor Emma Watson though, is left to wander on screen, reduced to mugging reactions, the camera lingering over her pretty young face in a series of reaction shots; thrilled to get a job at the Circle, grateful to her friend Annie (Karen Gillan) who gets her the job, upset that her father (Bill Paxton) is so sick, overwhelmed by her workload, surprised her ex-boyfriend (Ellar Coltrane) isn’t as enamored by urge to reveal all in public as she is. A leading lady in search of support, she gets little to none.
Karen Gillan is an exception as Annie. Along with Hanks, Gillan is one of the few characters who don’t feel wooden. Which is more than you can say for Ellar Coltrane who is hesitant to the point of being barely there. After Boyhood where he was mostly himself, ad libbing the process of growing up, the question was but can he act? The answer, based on this performance, is no. He might have been helped by a director who picked up the pace, instead he’s stranded, stiff and unconvincing. 

John Boyega is bizarrely under-utilized. I won’t spoil it—in case you’re still as determined as I was to see the movie in spite of the bad buzz—but in the book his character is mysterious, compelling, the relationship with Mae ripe with attraction and sensuality. That’s completely missing in action here, erased. One can’t help but wonder how many scenes were written and discarded before filming or if filmed, that they must have ended up on the cutting room floor. 

One scene that should have ended up there is an early one played by two supporting players who shall remain nameless. Circle employees, they oversee Mae’s work and stop by her cubicle to admonish her for not being a better team player, for not including online social interaction. It’s their only scene and unfortunately for them, they do it with such an over the top case of appallingly bad, cartoonish acting, like a bad SNL skit that it may be their last roles, period. 

And poor Bill Paxton. He’s fine as Mae’s dad—as is her mother played by Glenne Headly—but what a sad final role to mark his career. Afflicted with MS, hand quivering as he brings spoon to mouth, in one scene, at a family party, he has an accident and soils his jeans as Mae looks on helplessly. Paxton and Watson, like most of the cast, are like the actors in Six Characters in Search of an Author. Desperate for a writer and director to give them something more, something less crappy, to do. In The Circle, writer/director Jim Ponsoldt doesn’t give it to them. 

As you know who would say... SAD! *

* with apologies to my mother, who raised me to believe if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. 

Did you see The Circle? Please let me know what you thought of the movie in the comment section. I'm all ears.