By MICHAEL SMITH
A teenager looking for a friend and acceptance. A woman whose child died, now searching for someone to tell her that the pain will eventually lessen. A journalist looking for a sexy story to sell to her bosses.
People searching for something they need, or want, or that they lost, and all ending up in the same place: online.
They search for human connections via a computer in "Disconnect," a right-this-moment drama showing the dangers and the artificial substance of socializing through gadgets.
This impressive feature directing debut by Henry Alex Rubin (graduating from his marvelous Oscar-nominated documentary "Murderball") is produced by Oklahomans Mickey Liddell and Lynn Givens, among others, and it is more than a general cautionary tale.
This movie accurately reflects 2013 anxieties about the rabbit hole that the Internet can become.
For all of the instances of finding old friends on Facebook and sharing funny animal videos with friends, there are the harsher realities depicted in "Disconnect": identity theft, cyberbullying and looking for love in all the wrong places, like porn sites.
The story structure reminds of a Robert Altman tale of individuals whose stories intersect at varying points, in ways both direct and tenuous, but with three main subplots that weave together in a complementary fashion.
The most important of these - and the most cohesive - introduces a modern family of two parents and two teen children: a father (Jason Bateman) too attached to his cellphone to notice his son's bitter loneliness; a daughter too concerned about her own popularity to care about her brother's lack of friends; and a mother (Hope Davis) too lost in the electronic haze to notice her son has just found an online girlfriend - who is actually a pair of male classmates about to take a game too far.
Too many of us will recognize this nuclear family feebly attempting to eat at the dinner table: the father pulled away by a work call, the son texting under the table, the daughter eating and running back to online chatting, and the mom left wondering where everyone went.
There are sexual dynamics at work in the cyberbullying segment, and they are also present in the story of a TV reporter exposing a group of underage teens performing webcam sexual antics and a couple grown apart after their child's death, who must reconnect to find out who is funneling their funds out of their bank accounts.
The film begins a little slowly in developing these plot points, which initially seem a little TV-movie melodrama in nature, but the payoff is worth the wait as these individuals' situations become more desperate, with thriller conventions that feel authentic.
There are also outstanding performances, including Bateman as the father determined to decode his wounded son's online life; Frank Grillo ("The Grey") playing a retired cop who must investigate those closest to him; and Andrea Riseborough, who was the best thing about "Oblivion" and who here plays sexy and naive as a reporter who may be exploiting a young man more than his porno boss.
Best of all are the young people, who are so convincing and so at home with the laptops and tablets and more as they answer their parents' inquiries about their computer activities.
"I'm doing my homework" is the film's oft-told lie, because in "Disconnect," they are never "doing their homework."
There is a powerful fear factor prevalent in the picture that reminded me of watching virus-run-amok movie "Contagion" and feeling like I needed to wash my hands and not touch anything in public ever again immediately following the screening.
After viewing "Disconnect," it's impossible to not think about your own personal computer activities, and the information you are making available on a daily basis, and who may be out there watching.
"Disconnect" does paranoia very well.
Michael Smith 918-581-8479
Originally published by MICHAEL SMITH World Scene Writer.
(c) 2013 Tulsa World. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.
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