The addiction here isn’t a narcotic but connectivity. You know, people who are so connected — to online, tweeting, texting, emails, chat rooms, Facebook, mobile devices — that they are disconnected from real life. Thus the ironic title.
So ridiculously bad are these addictions that the film’s characters ignore or pay scant attention to the real world — school, work, driving, eating, family life — to live in a virtual one. But is this living? the movie asks.
Four story lines, which brush against one another here and there, portray perfectly normal, middle-class people getting dragged into a kind of hell, away from family and the hum-drum of everyday life, by the soothing seduction of connectivity.
A mother chides her son to put the handheld away at the dinner table. Well, dad’s doing it, he not unreasonably points out. Not the same thing, counters dad. This is a client.
Oh, that’s the difference. Pass the joint.
The script comes from Andrew Stern who has, press notes insist, written numerous film and TV projects but none get listed in a filmography. That’s okay, he can certainly write and soon his bio will list a few.
The film is directed by Henry-Alex Rubin, who never made a feature either but did make an excellent doc, “Murderball,” that was nominated for a 2005 Oscar. That’s okay too because documentarians before they get totally sucked into Hollywood are usually good for one or two smart features before succumbing.
Together these two conspire to produce a dark film about the connectivity, the flip side of “The Social Network” if you will, that doesn’t try to be pleasant but at the same time does not produce the worst-case scenarios for any of its four plot lines. Although it comes close in each case.
At hand are nothing but connectivity nightmares: identity theft, cyber bullying, illicit sex sites. Villainy is everywhere — and yet the film has no real villains.
The characters live in a major American city —New York City provides locations with Oceanside, Long Island; the Bronx; Yonkers; and Westchester County doing the honors — but it comes off as a place where characters can cross paths and even be neighbors.
An attorney and his wife (Jason Bateman and Hope Davis) are trying to live the suburban ideal, but dad has little time for the family so fails to notice that his high-school son (Jonah Bobo), a talented but withdrawn musician, has no real friends.
A younger couple (Alexander Skarsgård and Paula Patton) struggles with the aftermath of the death of a toddler yet neither communicates feelings. So the wife finds solace in a grief chat room while the husband racks up online gambling debt. Somewhere along the (on)line, somebody steals their identity — and the life savings are gone.
The ex-cop and identity-theft detective (Frank Grillo) is called in. Unbeknownst to him though — and a little unlikely under the circumstances of his being an online expert — the widower doesn’t realize his own son (Colin Ford) is involved with his own web-based shenanigans that involve playing a nasty trick on a schoolmate.
A fourth story, that stands apart from the rest perhaps because it’s more about journalism and ethnics than the ‘net, concerns a female television reporter (Andrea Riseborough). She stumbles upon a sex website featuring kids whom we’re lead to believe are underage although you’d never know it from the actors hired.
She develops a relationship with one male (Max Thieriot), whom she thinks would make a dandy subject for a TV feature. This story is so fraught with other elements beyond connectivity that it becomes something of a side show to the rest of the film.
Curiously, the movie seems determined to find someone to blame for this connectivity addiction. And “Disconnect” finds its enablers mostly in its adult male characters.
While the musical kid does get cyber-bullied by a fellow student, much blame is laid on a father who pays no attention to him or anyone else but his cell phone.
And the distraught wife who lost her baby has no one to talk to about her pain since her husband has become an Internet zombie. So she falls into chat-site traps.
And the detective-father is trying so hard to bury his own grief over his dead wife with work that he fails to notice his son has become an online monster.
The journalism story does mostly look hard at the female reporter. Nevertheless without too much exaggeration it too has a bad male role model in the fatherly head of the sex website, headquartered in a decrepit urban building, who says things like “Trust me and no one else.”
So the problem here is a smart indie film that buys into the Hollywood’s formula that dictates easy-to-understand reasons for social and psychological problems.
This may make the melodrama less messy and easier to follow but undercuts the message. Connectivity is a drug we all indulge in. So don’t go looking for villains. Look in a mirror.
Opens: April 12, 2013 (LD Entertainment)
Production company: Wonderful Films
Cast: Jason Bateman, Hope Davis, Frank Grillo, Paula Patton, Michael Nyqvist, Andrea Riseborough, Alexander Skarsgård, Max Thieriot
Director: Henry-Alex Rubin
Screenwriter: Andrew Stern
Producers: William Horberg, Mickey Liddell, Jennifer Monroe
Executive producer: Marc Forster, Brad Simpson, Scott Ferguson
Director of photography: Ken Seng
Production designer: Dina Goldman
Music: Max Richter
Costume designer: Catherine George
Editors: Lee Percy, Kevin Tent
R rating, 115 minutes