Searching movie cast: John Cho, Debra Messing, Michelle La, Joseph Lee
Searching movie director: Aneesh Chaganty
Searching movie rating: 2.5 stars
The story of a father searching for his missing teenaged daughter told entirely through screens – phone, computer, YouTube, Facebook, Tumblr, and something called a YouCast — is an interesting premise. It is all the more relevant because of the less and less time we spend away from those screens. Debutant feature director Chaganty traverses this surprisingly-not-common territory well, building the portrait of a closely-knit family through videos, photos, moments and calendar dates saved over the years, and navigating as well when the story becomes a mystery/thriller. It’s the story, co-written by Chaganty, that does the film in, with oft-repeated cliches of teenagers and their hidden lives, full of ‘friends’ and no real companions, and ignorant fathers who stumble around clueless once mothers are out of the picture (true as that may be).
We meet Margot and David Kim (Cho) when she is a toddler and he a doting father, who is also as devoted to wife Pam — as angelic a mother as they make them in some rarefied heavens. During the course of Margot’s years from baby to FB, Pam dies of cancer. It’s two years later, and we realise only gradually, through hurried video chats and phone calls, that David has brushed that tragedy under the carpet rather than deal with it head-on. That things are not so rosy is evident when Margot (played as an adult by Michelle La) suddenly disappears one night, after claiming to be at a friend’s for a study group. The three calls she makes, which David misses as he is asleep, and which pop up on the corner of his computer screen, are an ominous sign that something went wrong.
In comes Detective Vick (Messing), a caring, decorated police officer who emphasises how her being a mother makes her most suited to be the lead investigator in the case. She ropes David in to help, and much of the probe comes to revolve around the digital life of Margot.
While some of that is understandable, Chaganty perhaps stretches this tool too far, with cameras/screens almost never away even when face-to-face confrontations would do better. While both Messing and Cho are competent, the mystery, as it resolves itself, isn’t really the big reveal the film imagines it to be either.
However, the film’s observations into the constantly logged-in worlds we live in, our vicarious interest in the tragedies of others, and our greedy need to insinuate ourselves into them, are timely.