The Circle Premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival

Apr 30, 2017

Emma Watson stars in The Circle
Credit Harlan Jacobson for WBGO

The Tribeca film Festival ends this weekend, after a pretty full 10 days of some 104 films, plus TV and immersive media experiences and celebrity chats. 

The highest profile premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival is The Circle, directed by James Ponsoldt from Dave Eggers screenplay of his own novel. Which conjures up a techno information gigantum that looks a lot like a cross between Google and Apple corporate cultures, with Tom Hanks as the Steve Jobs-like Eamon Bailey at the head of it all, backed up by Patton Oswalt his enforcer, Tom Stenton.

Into this dark forest of enlightenment comes Emma Watson, the Little Red Riding Hood of the piece, not exactly skipping through the woods, but since this is 21st Century West Coast cyberville, kayaking upriver, and otherwise working an hourly job for the local water company harassing dyslexic customers over payments they read backwards. That is until she gets a job at The Circle on its fabulous circular campus, rendered in CGI longshots, where everyone is as relentlessly nice as Orwell’s 1984 crowd was authoritarian. Ponsoldt’s first film, Off the Black, in 2006, made great use of the wild and crazy Nick Nolte I love, bribing a high school kid to pretend he’s his son at his high school reunion.

Ponsoldt’s Smashed was about an alcoholic marriage and his breakout film, The Spectacular Now, is a high school coming of age story. Ponsoldt’s ability to handle young characters paired with older ones must have attracted him to lead producer Anthony Bregman, whose previous work –from his associate producer credit on The Ice Storm to producing  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Synecdoche NY, and Foxcatcher among others -- is always ambitious, never just phoned in.

The Circle isn’t reinventing the wheel about dystopia. The creepy insides of a Google-Apple-Matrix-like techno giant are fun to look at but familiar for the genre. Over the arc of the story, Eggers pushes the information age to its logical conclusion by having the Charismatic Leader introduce a translucent camera the size of a marble that sticks anywhere and sees everything. The boss calls this project Sea Change to the cheering multitudes at the weekly Dream Friday company-wide assembly. Emma Watson as Mae Holland, the Circle’s new girl wunderkind, then kicks out the jams later in the concepts committee meeting.

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Why not just let the 21st corporate state replace the 19th century republican one altogether? Everywhere. Over the course of things, I’d probably rather live inside Eggers’ dystopia then Orwell’s, since I already do. Most of us feel like were being chatted at by chipmunks anyway.

The Circle stretches the trend by strangling the life out of whatever remainsof the artisanal world of simple crafts and virtues, as represented by Eller Coltrane, playing the boy Mae left behind before running him off the planet, and her parents, rendered in 21st Century American Gothic style by Glenne Headly and the late Bill Paxton, as Mae’s dad, suffering from MS until the Circle sees all and comes to the rescue. Will Mae bring down the all-seeing eye? Did Samson, blinded by his captors, put his hands on the pillars of the Temple and push?

The Circle opens this weekend nationwide in 3000 theatres, trying to get out ahead of another dumb Marvel Guardians movie, and after getting a pretty terrific push by that big New York media megaphone that Tribeca film festival plays so well.

I caught some of the Clive Davis doc — the sequence of his discovery of Whitney Houston—but missed the concert at Radio City with Aretha Franklin, Earth Wind & Fire, and Dionne Warwick. Saturday night you can see The Year of The Scab, about the Washington Redskins strike breakers during the 1987 NFL strike, and Bombshell about 40’s Hollywood star, Hedy Lamarr. There’s also the Godfather I & II screenings at Radio City Music Hall, followed by a sitdown of the ensemble cast: Al Pacino, Jimmy Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire and Tribeca founder Robert DeNiro. Brando and John Cazale, of course, have moved on. And finally, you can catch the pretty weird pairing at the Tribeca PAC center on Chambers St of Barbra Streisand and Robert Rodriguez, the gonzo director of From Dusk Till Dawn and Machete I&II. Call that the Howl and the Pussycat.  I’m Harlan Jacobson at the great… fun… 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

Click above to hear the review.