A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Circle (based on Dave Eggers' 2013 novel) is a thriller about a huge tech company. Starring Tom Hanks and Emma Watson, it tackles timely issues related to privacy and accountability. There's a car crash and an offscreen death, as well as threats and characters in peril. One non-graphic sex act is shown between the main character's parents; the woman straddles the man in bed. Language is fairly strong, with a use of "f--k" and several uses of "s--t." Several scenes show social drinking, and one character mentions using pills to help stay awake. Despite its relevant themes, the movie really falls flat.
What's the story?
In THE CIRCLE, Mae Holland (Emma Watson) is working a dull temp job, so she eagerly accepts when her friend Annie (Karen Gillan) gets her an interview at huge internet company The Circle. At first, Mae finds her new job enjoyable, but peer pressure mounts -- it's clear that she's expected to be more present on the company's social network. After a kayaking accident, Mae realizes that it's not safe to keep secrets, so she agrees to be totally transparent, wearing a camera and broadcasting every aspect of her life online. She becomes very popular and advances through the company. But a friendship with one of the company's founders, Ty (John Boyega), leads to the realization that the company's kindly, charming chief officers (Tom Hanks and Patton Oswalt) aren't what they seem.
Is it any good?
This information-age thriller tries to tackle relevant topics like privacy and accountability, but its presentation is so opaque and plasticky that it might have come from a computer on Prozac. The Circle starts promisingly enough, like a more updated Antitrust (2001), with appealing characters and an exciting setting. Then Mae takes such a puzzling left turn. Not only is it difficult to identify with her, but when she verbally argues her decision, it sounds wooden and hollow. In fact, all of the characters trying to (ironically) speak up in favor of a total lack of privacy sound fake. (Is that the point of the movie? If so, it's not clear.)
It's all so horribly disappointing, given the skill that writer/director James Ponsoldt has shown on his three previous, excellent features (Smashed, The Spectacular Now, and The End of the Tour), all of which dealt with deeply, movingly human flaws. Now whatever human touch he might have brought to the material is gone, and he seems to have no handle on how to make a paranoid thriller with inhuman stakes. It's baffling, considering that Dave Eggers co-wrote the screenplay based on his own book, and the cast -- including the late Bill Paxton and a musical appearance by Beck -- is above reproach. Wherever The Circle went wrong is, for now, a mystery.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about The Circle's violence. How do devices become threats in the film? Is that something that happens in real life?
Would you want a job at a company like The Circle? Why or why not? Do you think it's modeled on any real-life businesses? Why or why not?
Would you want your life broadcast online? Why do you think someone might choose to do that?
- In theaters: April 28, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: August 1, 2017
- Cast: Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, Karen Gillan
- Director: James Ponsoldt
- Studio: STX Entertainment
- Genre: Thriller
- Topics: Book characters
- Run time: 110 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: a sexual situation, brief strong language and some thematic elements including drug use
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.