Disconnect (2012)

dWritten by: Andrew Stern

Directed by: Henry-Alex Rubin

Many years ago, I was a young mother with a spirited four-year-old and a newborn son. My husband and I had recently discovered the “Information Superhighway.” Equipped with the noisy dial-up connection that was then the height of technology, we ventured into cyberspace.

I had quit working outside the home because, to put it bluntly, my paycheck couldn’t cover daycare for two children. I’d become estranged from my work friends, and my initial efforts to befriend stay-at-home moms hadn’t borne much fruit. My husband had to work long hours. I was also beginning a long journey that would culminate in my having what is cloyingly referred to as a child with”special needs,” and I was adding new phrases like “sensory integration disorder” and “autism spectrum” to my vocabulary. I was lonely, anxious, and scared, and I yearned for the perks of my mom’s era, when full-time mothers bonded over coffee klatches between carpooling and ballet lessons.

I soon discovered that mom-groups existed in cyberspace. This was a new phenomenon for me. I talked about everything, from my fears over my baby’s growth delays to my frustration with the school system, with women I’d never met in the three-dimensional world. I’ve always been lucky in finding good friends online. Now, almost seventeen years later — when I’ve made plenty of connections in our actual community — I am still in touch with many of those wonderful moms from my earliest cyber-chats and value their friendship. I do believe that real friendships can blossom via the internet, but if we come to rely too heavily on electronic connections, it can be a slippery slope.

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Our propensity to look to cyberspace for connections we lack in our flesh-and-blood lives is one of the themes of Disconnect. This movie, which has been described as a cautionary tale, shows some of the potential dangers on this road, with ripped-from-the-headlines tales of cyber bullying and identity theft.

True to the film’s title, it’s really about how we become estranged from the people we love most. Disconnect also has a great deal to say about parenthood: grief over losing a child, the anguish of seeing your kid suffer, and other types of parental heartbreak. This final theme is what made this film compelling for me.

Three intertwined stories comprise this movie. The characters are lightly drawn,but they’re interesting and easy to care about. The performances are consistently excellent, and this is the best work I’ve seen from Jason Bateman. I’ve read that this is his favorite among the movies he’s worked on, and I hope he’ll take more dramatic roles.

Derek (Alexander Skarsgård), a former soldier, and his wife Cindy (Paula Patton) are mourning the death of their baby boy. Derek, who sates his need for risk-taking on gambling websites, has become emotionally unavailable to Cindy, so she opens herself up to a cyber friend. When they become victims of identity theft and are robbed of their assets, Derek and Cindy enlist the services of detective Mike Davis (Frank Grillo).
Mike’s son Jason (Colin Ford), unbeknownst to him, has been lured into a cruel cyber bullying campaign. His victim, Ben (Jonah Bobo), a lonely misfit, feels estranged from his family, including his dad, Rich (Jason Bateman), a workaholic lawyer — glued to his cellphone — whose emotions are tightly repressed.

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Meanwhile, Nina (Andrea Riseborough), an ambitious journalist, befriends Kyle (Max Theirot), a young man caught up in the online sex trade, seeing him as a conduit to an important story.

These interconnected tales flow seamlessly, and — for the most part — the storytelling is absorbing and quite moving. At times, the story slips a bit, and I felt like I was merely watching a message movie, but this didn’t happen often. This is a well-crafted, timely film, and it would be an excellent movie for parents to watch and discuss with mature teens.

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