Disconnect is the Crash of the Internet age. Like the Best Picture-winner the stories are somewhat interconnected. It also takes itself very, very seriously. Although it has some salient points about how the Internet has affected our relationships, Disconnect comes off more like a sort of 21st century Reefer Madness about technology.
The phrase ''concern-trolling'' comes to mind. One of its many definitions is when someone appears to empathize with a troubling situation, but that concern is really condescending or, worse yet, barely masked schadenfreude and derision. Although I don't actually think that writer Andrew Stern and director Henry-Alex Rubin (Murderball) are enjoying the paces they put these characters through, the overall effect is one of insincerity.
Although the Internet can be a hazardous place for people of all ages, these characters' stories come across as Lifetime movie fodder. The kid who's humiliated via Facebook by two male peers isn't just withdrawn, he pouts at the world from beneath the most impressive bangs this side of Thrasher Magazine. One of his bullies is, of course, bullied himself by his resentful dad, a former cop who had to become a PI to support them after his wife died. In another subplot, a hot teen makes money getting his kit off for strangers with webcams and lives in a sort of flophouse owned by the sleazy pseudo-pimp who runs the cam site. When a journalist sniffs out this webcam ring as a great story, the line between professional and personal get blurry. For a grieving mother and wife, the succor of an online support group inadvertently gets her sucked into a phishing scam that almost ruins her and her husband's lives.
Maybe if Disconnect focused on just one of these stories, or even two interconnected ones, it wouldn't come off so overwhelmingly maudlin. Some of the concerns are terribly dated or simply ludicrous; I can't get over the fact that the term ''sexcam'' is used, as well as the weirdly hysterical idea of a sweatshop of possibly underage teens lured into the world of web-camming with a hot meal and a place to crash. The movie can be effective in parts, though. The Facebook bullying plotline is painfully relevant, even though it's played for high melodrama. It gives us all a disturbing look at how easy social media has made bullying, and how hard it is to escape it.
Disconnect gives some underused actors a chance to gnaw some scenery. Jason Bateman's role of the grieving and angry dad allows him to explore his darker, more sensitive side - some of his scenes are the most affecting. Andrea Riseborough is a wonderful chameleon who dons sensible suits and French-tipped manicures for her performance as a news anchor hoping to bring her career to the next level. Alexander Skarsgard is oddly effective as an emotionally stunted husband, even though it's hard to take him really seriously as an office drone. The rest of the cast - Max Thieriot, Paula Patton, Hope Davis, Frank Grillo, Michael Nyqvist, and Colin Ford - are decent enough, given what they have to work with. Fashion designer Mark Jacobs, who plays Harvey the webcam pimp, is an amazing bit of stunt casting, though he shouldn't quit his day job.
Disconnect is oddly dark and murky, but luckily cinematographer Ken Seng left his Project X shaky handheld style at home. Max Richter is an incredible composer, but in conjunction with the overripe dramatics onscreen, it all becomes a bit much. We get it, people are disconnected from each other, their feelings, and their sexuality, but isn't there some room for happiness and joy that isn't tinged with pain amid all this tragedy?
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