'Disconnect' review: Dated details, ever-valid feelings

'Disconnect'

'Disconnect' (April 9, 2013)

**1/2 (out of four)

I'd say I'm of two minds about “Disconnect,” but I think it's more like my mind and my heart don't agree on this one. For starters: IMDB plot summaries don't get much drier than, “A drama centered on a group of people searching for human connections in today’s wired world.”

Come on, you don't want to see that movie. Especially when the poster says “look up” and features a bunch of people milling about. We know we're disconnected—you may have read a story about it earlier today, gazing at your phone/iPad/tiny screen reflected on the back of someone's head—and the last thing moviegoers need is another “everyone is connected” story a la Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“Babel”) or the superficial “Cloud Atlas.”

Yet the film unfolds with ever-poignant anguish that’s at war with familiar messages delivered in alternately affecting and melodramatic ways. A couple (Alexander Skarsgard, Paula Patton) torn apart by the loss of a child copes with identity theft; a reporter (Andrea Riseborough) attempts to write a feature on a boy (Max Theriot) who makes money by masturbating on a Web cam service (he's offended when she just wants to talk); busy parents (Jason Bateman, Hope Davis) struggle to connect with their teenage daughter and son Ben (Jonah Bobo), the latter finding comfort in a girl who contacts him via Facebook but actually is two male classmates whose idea of a prank inevitably goes too far.

Besides sneaking in a cameo for his previous subject Mark Zupan, “Murderball” director Henry-Alex Rubin helms “Disconnect” with a sleek patience that doesn't overemphasize the interconnectedness of the storylines. Andrew Stern's script gets tangled up with the reporter, Nina Dunham (no relation to Lena Dunham), who generates attention to her story that doesn't make sense on a large or small journalistic scale. (The Internet wasn't invented yesterday.)

Anyone who's seen or even heard of “Crash” or “Catfish” or David Schwimmer's unexpectedly strong sophomore directorial effort “Trust” will see redundancies and outdated characterizations in “Disconnect.”

The movie hits home in honest ways, though, in its portrait of struggling families, and through the sympathetic turns by Bateman and Colin Ford, who plays one of the boys perpetrating the cruel joke on Ben. Friendless and quiet, Ben seeks refuge in the music of Sigur Ros, the Icelandic band whose music often features words in a made-up language. How beautiful and sad that it could ever feel like respite from the actual words anyone uses, or doesn't.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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