The Electronic Age has created a unique predicament for humans. In the age of social media, we are constantly plugged into what is going on around the world. But the more we are connected online, the less, it seems, that we are connected to those in our lives. The new film "Disconnect" takes a "Crash"-style approach to illustrating how much people still yearn for basic human connections, despite closing themselves off.
"Disconnect" loosely weaves three stories together. The first, and strongest, involves a television reporter looking for her big break when she stumbles upon a hustler, who performs on a Cam4-like site. The second involves a loner teenager who has no friends and isn’t understood by his family. A Facebook "catfishing" prank by two of his classmates leads to an attempted suicide and everyone looking for answers. Lastly, and the one that gets shortchanged on screen time, involves a couple still mourning the loss of a child whose problems are compounded when their identities are stolen and their bank accounts drained.
All of the characters have problems connecting to people in the real world, and as such turn to the Internet where they are instantly able to find a connection and attention. The film plays on the basic need that everyone wants to know that they are loved and is able to feel something. In a world filled with Grindr hookups, not everything that is real on social media ends up being that way when transferred into the real world.
"Disconnect" offers an interesting conundrum for viewers. It’s a dark film with some tough themes at play that asks you to care about a cast of characters that aren’t overtly likeable. They are closed off emotionally because they are hurt, fragile and broken, but they are attempting to reach out in their own ways. The film doesn’t necessarily offer a "Hollywood happy ending" where they all have an epiphany and begin to connect with their loved ones. However, each of the characters does complete a journey throughout the course of the film that makes it easier to understand them and at least empathize with them.
"Murderball" director Henry Alex Rubin makes a seamless transition from documentaries in his debut feature film. He’s taken aspects of what he learned from his years of observing subjects in their element and applied it here, often lingering for a moment or two in an effort to capture a reaction from the actors. At times you almost feel like a voyeur sitting in the character’s most intimate moments, thanks to the director’s use of close-up shots. He’s also brought a nice stylization into the film by keeping scenes where characters are instant messaging each other from being too mundane. In a lesser director’s hands these would have included run-of-the-mill screen shots of the computer, but Rubin is more concerned about the characters and seeing their reaction (or lack thereof) to the different situations that arise.
The filmmakers have done a fine job of casting the film with actors playing against their typecast characters. Jason Bateman takes on a rare dramatic role, while Alexander Skarsgard is a long way from his "True Blood" role. Both demonstrate that they are capable of more than what they are usually asked to do. Actor Max Thieriot, as Internet model Kyle, does a good job of transitioning into a sultry leading man. With a string of teen roles and bit parts, Thieriot has never made much of a play in terms of being sexy onscreen, but he more than excels here with charisma and swagger dripping from the screen. He plays perfectly opposite Andrea Riseborough as the pair circles each other while deciding what kind of relationship they can realistically have.
In the end, "Disconnect" isn’t the type of film that you leave in the theater once the credits roll. It’s an intimate film that stays with the audience, perhaps because it hits so close to home for our culture, where people are afraid to unplug for fear of missing something. As "Disconnect" shows, you miss more when you are constantly connected to the virtual world than when you do unplug.