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You keep expecting the proverbial ball to drop with The Circle. Hoping that it actually has more to say than "over-sharing is bad," "our dependence on social media is ruining our privacy," and "there's a right way to use the internet." But it doesn't. Instead, the movie's grand philosophical debate is so simplistic and comes from two opposing and extreme sides of the spectrum that it's basically rendered mute. In fact, by its conclusion, you feel like you have just watched the equivalent of two internet trolls barking their different opinions at each other without any consideration for the human being beyond the avatar.
The film opens on Emma Watson's Mae Holland being saved from her mundane call center job and being hired at the titular company, which appears to be a mixture of Facebook, Snapchat, and Apple, with an added political intent thrown in there for good measure. Despite her original trepidations, Mae slowly becomes indoctrinated into the way of The Circle, especially after they provide her mother and multiple-sclerosis suffering father with full health insurance, while an accident soon makes her the perfect candidate for their latest technological advancement.
The Circle is about as excruciating as cinema gets. Not because it is shabbily put together. There are too many talented individuals involved for that to be the case, with director James Ponsoldt behind the camera, Emma Watson leading the way, and Tom Hanks, Patton Oswalt, Karen Gillan, and John Boyega in supporting roles. There's actually a smoothness to how it proceeds. It's just unfortunate that what it is trying to say is so utterly obvious and self-aggrandizing that if you were stuck in this topic of conversation with a stranger you'd immediately fake an illness or drop to the floor and pretend to be dead to get out of it.
The Circle literally plays as if it has been written by a bunch of elites that have spent a little bit too much time on their phones, decided that the world has become too dependent on technology, and now they're going to make a film that saves people from themselves. It's smug, condescending, and completely without incident. In fact, The Circle is the reason why people hate Hollywood. It feels like a decree laid down to "the people" from those up in their ivory towers, a call to arms for everyone to put down their keyboards and just come together in peace, love, and heart-emojis, but which unfolds in an overly heightened and sensationalized world with barely a semblance of reality.
There's literally no complexity to the characters, who are either looking to exploit social media for their gain, forcing people to post everything that they've ever uttered or done onto such accounts, or they have realized that The Circle has gone too far in these pursuits. The latter trait is embodied by John Boyega's character Ty Lafitte, who at one point is able to take Watson's character, Mae Holland, to the side and perfectly detail why The Circle is corrupt. This might have been riveting and suspenseful if it wasn't already crystal clear to everyone watching that what the company is trying to perpetrate is, at the very least, unethical as well as blatantly felonious.
Mae Holland doesn't really take notice, though, and instead Emma Watson skips through the rest of the film, going higher and higher through the company courtesy of her likes and followers and constant posts. The Circle obviously believes that it's encouraging a discussion on the topic of social media, and is even trying to be sensationalist and divisive to stir the pot. Maybe it achieves that, but the conversation it is trying to create is so dull and mundane that no one is listening, while the answer of using these accounts in moderation is so plainly obvious to anyone with common sense that you're never invested in the characters or their plots. It also doesn't help that The Circle's various arguments come in the form of overly judgmental and preachy speeches that will leave you pining for the days of the Stone Age.
The Circle's only saving grace is the presence of Bill Paxton, who lights up the screen as Mae's father, and even though it's just a minute supporting role, he manages to instantly bring subtly, humor, and warmth. Something that the rest of The Circle is completely lacking.