By Eleanor Ringel Cater
Forget the old saying, “The Future is Now.” In “The Circle,” The Future is Yesterday.
A cautionary tale with a better set-up than pay-off, the movie makes merry fun of millennial Happy-Face careerism — but with a sinister subtext that becomes less of a laughing matter as the picture progresses. The problem is “The Circle” is never quite as ominous as it could be and the final scenes just sort of dribble away.
Still, a good bit of “The Circle” is lip-smacking fun. Corporate drone Mae (a very effective Emma Watson) is bored silly working for the water department. So when a friend says there’s an opening at The Circle, Mae is overjoyed.
Just what is The Circle? Well, it’s sort of a cross between Scientology and Silicon Valley. And what does it do? Good question. Something computer-y, techno-future-ish. Asked by her parents (Glenne Headly and, touchingly, Bill Paxton in his final performance) to describe her job, Mae says, “I work in customer experience.”
She doesn’t mention employee experience at The Circle: the gym, the free fit bits, the lap pool, the day care center, the dental care.
Or the place’s pervasive we-are-one-big-happy-family (or else…) environment.
That sort of enthusiasm and sense of belonging is central to The Circle. Everyone’s really happy. Everyone’s really psyched. At the weekly gatherings (called Dream Fridays), the employees cheer like Romans in the Coliseum, waiting for the face-off between Christians and lions.
The bread and circuses are led by their leader, Eamon, wonderfully played by Tom Hanks, dressed in causal cool. Part Steve Jobs, part Jim Jones (as in the Electric Kool-Aid Death Test in Guyana a few decades back), Eamon typically introduces a new product.
This time, it’s SeeChange, a minuscule new camera that records everything you do, all the time, while anyone who wants to can watch and comment. It’s a little reminiscent of “The Truman Show,” but with a totally complicit Jim Carrey, i.e., in on the deal.
Mae’s non-participatory attitude has come under scrutiny. She doesn’t want to spend every weekend on The Circle campus enjoying concerts on the beach. It’s not that she has to be there, but her absence is…noticed. To assure everyone she’s properly programmed — er, enthusiastic — she volunteers to try out SeeChange.
The result is one of the best send-ups of Internet troll-ism in recent memory. The comments on what Mae does — down to what clothes she puts on in the morning — elicits an avalanche of responses: some innocuous, some inane, some downright psycho.
Unfortunately, the movie never figures out a satisfying way to wrap up its complex social satire. Ambiguity isn’t the best solution, but it might leave a better after-taste.
Still, “The Circle” is the increasingly rare movie that invites you to talk about afterwards – even if only to complain about its unsatisfying denouement. And that’s a lot better than wondering who’d win in a Batman vs. Superman rematch.