Inspired in part by an actual event, MTV’s “(Dis)connected” provides a spare, sobering look at the issue of youth interaction online, with young people opening themselves up to all the pain and cruelty associated with adolescence within an uncharted new digital domain. Yet the project carries a “developed by” credit in lieu of actual writers, and that approach shows, in a (dis)jointed and ultimately (dis)appointing film. Despite good intentions, MTV has delivered a movie as shallow as the video-blog world it examines. While it looks and feels serious, the result fails to bring depth and dimension to its 2D characters.
Leaping around among teens and young adults in different cities, director Leslie Libman (who shares the development credit with Maggie Malina and Antonio Campos) introduces various players wrestling with different issues, from body image to bipolar disorder to plain old-fashioned insecurities.
For example, Lisa (Ana Coto) is reluctant to strip for a boy with whom she’s chatting online, while Isaiah (Jordan Calloway) struggles with feelings of isolation. Maria (Lindsey Morgan) goes through a bitter breakup, texting every beat of the process.
Much of this feels like an extended, unwieldy prologue, though, for the film’s main thrust, derived from the true story of a 19-year-old who committed suicide via webcast, while being urged to go through with it by a digital mob. The sequence brings to mind the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese, only here, the callous onlookers’ view is mediated via a video stream.
What Libman and her collaborators haven’t done is bring much coherence to the narrative. Instead, “(Dis)connected” bounces along — using a frenetic, cinema verite style meant to capture the realm it’s chronicling — with such a short attention span it’s difficult even to ascertain who the key players are until well into the film.
That’s a shame, since there are some strong and very natural performances here (though Michelle Forbes, playing a mom, is wasted in a useless cameo), and it’s all in the service of a good cause. MTV will follow the movie with a special that explores such areas as “trust and over-sharing in a digital world.”
There’s no question media consumption has fundamentally altered relationships and the concept of privacy for those weaned in the digital age, which perhaps requires different ways of addressing them. Yet while “(Dis)connected” registers some interesting points about those shifting dynamics, stitched together in the manner it is, it can’t even connect the dots.