It’s a well-known irony of the Information Age that while the Internet has allowed for unprecedented communication on a global scale, its seductively anonymous nature has also fostered a breakdown of communication on an interpersonal scale. This is the underlying theme of Henry Alex Rubin’s not-so-subtly named Disconnect, a dramatic triptych of loosely connected stories that mostly avoids the pitfalls of an easy target with solid work from all involved.
In one story, Alexander Skarsgård and Paula Patton play Derek and Cindy, a married couple struggling to come to terms with life and each other after the death of their infant son. Adding insult to tragedy, the couple falls victim to identity theft, which drains their bank and credit accounts dry. The perp is likely Cindy’s longtime chat buddy from a support-group website, whom she’s been more emotionally open with than her husband. Skarsgård might not be the most demonstrative of actors, but fans of his work from True Blood know his stern Nordic gaze holds a churning sea at bay; it makes him a great choice for a character trying to keep it together as he gets all the more desperate.
The second scenario stars Andrea Riseborough as a local TV reporter who sees a great interview opportunity in a contented and aimless sex-cam worker played by Max Thieriot. It’s no surprise that the legal and emotional ramifications of their relationship spiral out of control. The two have a nice chemistry, and are both sympathetic, even though their story is the weakest of the bunch.
The most affecting tale concerns Jason, a high school kid played by Colin Ford. Jason and his best friend Frye (Aviad Bernstein) are troublemakers, blissfully unconcerned with the heretofore minor consequences of their actions. On a whim they decide to pull a “catfish” on a quiet loner from their school named Ben (Jonah Bobo)—they create a Facebook account for a fake girl in their school to flirt with him just to see what they can make him do. Feeling an outcast in all corners of his life, Ben is, tragically, the perfect mark.
While cyberbullying is a serious and pervasive crime, the subject has been covered ad infinitum in news magazines and myriad bad basic cable movies. What elevates this particular section above Afterschool Special material, aside from the generally excellent performances, is the investigation Ben’s father, Rich (Jason Bateman), makes after the prank goes bad. Without giving too much away, he falls into a unique relationship that illuminates his failings as a parent. It’s an insightful twist that’s more than plot for plot’s sake.
Disconnect is a compelling drama that’s definitely of this time, but not limited by it. It uses technology merely as a springboard to examine the more universal idea that communication without substance is no communication at all.
Director: Henry Alex Rubin
Writer: Andrew Stern
Starring: Jason Bateman, Jonah Bobo, Hope Davis, Colin Ford, Frank Grillo, Paula Patton, Andrea Riseborough, Alexander Skarsgård, Max Thieriot
Release Date: Apr. 12, 2013