*. Searching is one of those movies that forces one to reconsider how critics give out grades. On the one hand, 90% of it is excellent, a judgment I’ll qualify by adding “given its gimmick.” The ending, though, is a bit of a muff. For a movie like this, however, how much does not sticking the landing count for? I don’t think anybody wants to watch a movie like Searching twice, so if you’re entertained throughout most of it, hasn’t it done its job?
*. Let’s start with the gimmick. The movie is presented as though all of it is taking place on a computer screen (the not-very-catchy name for this genre is “computer screen film”). There are text messages, FaceTime sessions, YouTube clips, phone calls, forum threads, surveillance video, television news footage, Instagram posts, and other digital flotsam and jetsam. I think you’ll agree this doesn’t sound very appealing. It sounds even more annoying than a movie shot entirely on a cell phone, or presented as found footage — the style of filmmaking that it follows in a direct line of ancestry from.
*. Surprisingly, Searching is not annoying. And it works pretty well. It depends on its manipulation of twists and red herrings and I thought these were introduced nicely and made to seem natural. A movie like this is cheap and easy to shoot but difficult to put together. I think the solution to what’s really going on here isn’t hard to figure out, but even having guessed it I still enjoyed the way things were being brought along.
*. For all the intimacy you may expect given this is a movie made mostly out of private or hidden conversations (using that term loosely), it’s not a movie that gives us much in the way of character. There’s a single dad who doesn’t really understand, or even know very much about, his daughter, something that is brought home to him when he finds out about her life online. And then there’s a dark mirror of this. Is it the medium though that makes all the characters seem so two-dimensional? I hate to use the word stereotype since it’s primarily an Asian-American cast, but while these aren’t racial stereotypes they are genre stereotypes, which means they primarily just act out basic plot functions.
*. Still, for all its limitations I found Searching to be quite entertaining, at least until the end. Not that the revelation is terrible. It was, as I’ve said, what I was expecting. And it gives the film a certain thematic balance. It does, however, play out far too long. They needed to wrap things up quicker, without so much explanation of what didn’t need explanation in the first place. And the miracle ending, however necessary they might have thought it, is silly. But I guess that even in the newest forms of storytelling some conventions have to be maintained.