In the sobering drama Disconnect, technology is one of the culprits that separate people from each other — but not the only one. The film is too thoughtful to be so one-dimensional, and so it also examines the myriad ways in which we manage to lose track of what’s important to us — through too much face time with our computers and tablets and cellphones, yes, but also through ambition, carelessness, habit and grief.
The film links three thematically related stories in which some of the characters intersect briefly. In one, a busy workaholic lawyer named Rich (Jason Bateman, excellent in a rare serious role) is estranged from his loner teenage son Ben (Jonah Bobo); his wife (Hope Davis) at least tries to talk to the boy, but Ben, like many teenagers, is hardly forthcoming. He’s more interested in his music and being online, where he thinks he has met a like-minded girl who praises his compositions. (He hasn’t; two of the kids from his school are pranking him, with disastrous results.)
In another story, Cindy and Derek (Paula Patton and Alexander Skarsgard) find themselves adrift in the wake of their infant’s death. A former Marine stuck in a dull civilian job, he shuts down emotionally; she finds solace in an online chatroom sharing her thoughts — and maybe too much personal information — with a sympathetic man who tells her he has lost his wife. The final story involves Nina, an ambitious TV reporter (Andrea Riseborough) who uncovers an online teenage sex ring and persuades Kyle (Max Thieriot), one of the young men who works there, to discuss the set-up on camera. I’ll protect your identity, she assures him, but the truth is that though she’s drawn to him, she’s too busy wondering how the broadcast might improve her career to really understand the nature of what she’s offering.
Disconnect was directed by Henry Alex Rubin, who made the documentary Murderball, about a group of paraplegics who play a brutal brand of rugby. The beauty of the film is that each story is compelling in its own way, and yet all three effectively drive home the film’s point about the dangers of isolation and alienation. Even when they’re behaving abominably, these distracted characters evoke empathy, and when they manage to reach out to each other, the scenes are delicate and downright breathtaking. In one painful and moving scene, one of Ben’s tormenters, played by Colin Ford, finds himself confessing truths under his assumed female persona about his problematic relationship with his father (Frank Grillo), a hard-case, widowed detective who orders his son around and never shows him any affection. We need human connection, and we will find it, even in the worst or most unlikely of circumstances.
The film builds to a three-pronged tumultuous climax, shot in slow motion that could have been overwrought but somehow isn’t. And though the script by Andrew Stern doesn’t provide happy endings for all, he leaves us with the hope that at least some of these sad and lonely people might turn to each other with compassion.
Cast: Jason Bateman, Paula Patton, Alexander Skarsgard, Hope Davis, Andrea Riseborough, Max Thieriot, Michael Nyqvist, Colin Ford, Jonah Bobo.
Director: Henry Alex Rubin.
Screenwriter: Andrew Stern.
Producers: William Horberg, Mickey Liddell, Jennifer Hilton.
An LD Entertainment release. Running time: 115 minutes. Sexual content, some graphic nudity, language, violence, drug use. Opens Friday April 19 in Miami-Dade: South Beach; in Broward: Gateway.