Though I generally go into screenings with an open mind, I remain wary of tripe and crass, blatantly commercial fodder for the sake of big box-office receipts. So when I saw the title Disconnect and realized the movie was an ensemble drama about the impact and the dehumanizing, desensitizing effects of digital social media on society, I hoped the subject wouldn’t be treated in a heavy-handed melodramatic way. Well, it turns out that Disconnect is one of my favorite films of the year so far — an interwoven tale in the manner of Crash and Babel, although timelier and palpably true. It didn’t hurt that it was directed and co-written by Henry Alex Rubin, who made the acclaimed documentary Murderball.
In the tapestry of Disconnect, an ambitious TV newswoman gets entangled with a young male purveyor of webcam porn; two cruel teenage boys “catfish” a sensitive fellow student by creating a flirtatious female online identity; and a young husband and wife are plunged into dire financial straits by a case of identity theft. These plotlines are all too real in this day and age, and as they tangle together for dramatic effect, Disconnect veers toward the contrived. But the film is smart and nimble in its intricacy, and avoids easy, audience-friendly resolutions.
It could have been a misfire. Instead, it presents a thoroughly modern subject with emotional verity. Plus, the cast — including Jason Bateman (Up in the Air, Identity Thief), Hope Davis (American Splendor, About Schmidt), Michael Nyqvist (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Andrea Riseborough (Brighton Rock, W. E.), Alexander Skarsgård (True Blood, Melancholia), and Paula Patton (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Precious) — is first-rate. Yes, in this group of accomplished dramatic actors, the oft-comic Jason Bateman is absolutely spot-on as a conflicted father and lawyer facing tragic circumstances. And that’s no disconnect.