‘Searching’ follows ‘Eighth Grade’ as another thought-provoking film about the intersection between teens’ lives and their presence—and reliance—on social media.
Kernel Rating: 3.5 (3.5 out of 5)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 102 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 13+. The film is presented in a way that makes it seem like you are watching all the action through a series of screens, whether that is a phone screen, computer screen, or television footage, and incorporates chat boxes, online searches, and social media websites and apps to convey information. A teenage girl goes missing and is assumed to be kidnapped or killed, and there is extensive media coverage discussing these possibilities; there are some fist-fights and physical altercations, including the description of one character who takes their own life; characters smoke marijuana and drink; a parent dies from a terminal illness; and characters curse, make sexually implicit jokes or comments, and send some suggestive texts.
By Roxana Hadadi
A few weeks ago, the film “Eighth Grade” delved into the life of a young woman on the verge of entering high school, trying to figure out herself, her place socially, and her relationship with her father. She spent most of her time on her phone, scrolling through Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr, and wondering how her own life measured up to those of her classmates.
As summer nears its end, “Searching” rearranges some of those same questions (who are your children online, and who are they offline?) into a mystery that maintains its twists and turns while considering the dangers of our hyperconnected world. And much like “Eighth Grade,” “Searching” is another appropriate family-viewing choice, one that can inspire conversations about teens’ behavior on social media, who they interact with and how, and how the information they volunteer online can be understood—and misunderstood—by people they may know, and more people who they don’t.
“Searching,” which is shot in a way so that everything you see is through screens or online—cell phones, computers and laptops, YouTube, Google, FaceTime, a variety of other apps—focuses on the Kim family; the widowed David (John Cho) is raising his daughter Margot (Michelle La) after his wife and her mother Pamela’s (Sara Sohn) death from cancer. In the two years since Pamela died, David and Margot have grown apart, mostly communicating through texts and video chat. They’re each grieving, but they’re not grieving together.
But one night, Margot doesn’t come home from a biology study group, and she doesn’t respond to David’s messages throughout the next day. When he calls the police to report her missing, he’s connected with detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing), who immediately launches into her investigation. Who are Margot’s friends? Who was she with the night she disappeared? What did she present about herself online? Was she chatting with anyone suspicious? Did she post any pictures? And on and on and on, questions about Margot that make David realize he may not have known his daughter very well at all—but he’ll have to find answers if there is any hope of tracking down where Margot is.
The film’s intimate style means that Cho, Messing, and La shoulder practically the entire film on their own, in extreme close-up throughout these various screens, and Cho and La in particular are believable and sympathetic. As a father increasingly unraveled by his daughter’s disappearance, Cho sells a roller coaster of emotions that range from sheepish to enraged, and La effectively portrays a sort of numb loneliness. And although the screens trick gets a little tedious toward the end of the film, director Aneesh Chaganty makes his point by showing the interconnectedness of our world, from cell phones to messaging apps to closed-circuit television to TMZ to YouTube and beyond. Anyone could be watching anyone, and Chaganty underscores that how casually we accept this reality is more than a little frightening.
What David and Margot don’t say to each other is exactly what parents watching this film with their children should talk about, especially as Cho’s character uncovers more and more elements of what his daughter was doing online that are utterly unfamiliar to him—but that would be helpful for him to understand her desires, her dreams, and her fears. “Searching” gets a little bonkers toward the end, but how the film embraces some of the campier elements of the thriller genre doesn’t take away from the other insights it offers about our relationship with social media and the simultaneous dangers and benefits it can provide.
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