The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



It's starting to seem as though “movies taking place entirely on a computer screen” is going to be the new “found footage.” We've already had Open Windows, Unfriended, and its sequel, Unfriended: Dark Web. Now comes Searching, a film that refines the gimmick, making it sleeker while also figuring out a way to amp up the human element. This is a very good picture that might have been even better with one different casting choice.

The affecting prelude is sort of like a Windows version of the montage from Pixar's Up that takes us through the courtship and marriage of Carl and his wife, ending with her passing. In this case, David Kim (John Cho) is flipping through pictures and videos on his computer, tracking how his daughter Margot has grown and remembering his late wife Pam (Sara Sohn). He gets to a point where the sadness overtakes him, and he stops.

With that backstory in place, the plot kicks in. The now teenage Margot (Michelle Liu) FaceTimes David, then hangs up rather abruptly. She's supposedly at a study group, yet never comes home and doesn't answer her phone. David files a missing persons report with the police. Debra Messing plays Rosemary Vick, the detective leading the investigation into her disappearance. She encourages him to provide information about Margot's friends, interests, and lifestyle, so he gets into her computer. Using Facebook, YouCast, Google Maps, and more, he begins looking for clues. In the process, David learns that she had a secret, one he didn't even have the slightest inkling about.

Director/co-writer Aneesh Chaganty does a very smart thing – he ignores the temptation to tell the story in real time, as other computer-set thrillers have done. Searching sometimes jumps from one thing to the next, suggesting that time has passed and David has been away from the computer for a little while. That gives the movie a quicker pace, since we don't have to wade through mundane moments waiting for the next big thrill.

Authentic use of websites and apps also contributes to the excitement. Searching feels real because it utilizes stuff that most of us use. More than that, the film gets at how much of our personal lives we put online. Through his exploration of Margot's various accounts, David comes to learn things about her that he was unaware of, and he realizes that he's been an unobservant father to some degree. You might be surprised how emotional the film can be. Much credit for that goes to John Cho, who gives a heartfelt performance that usually has him acting by himself.

Searching's mystery is constructed like the interior of a clock. The last five minutes or so unravel the whole thing, illustrating how all the clues we knew about fit together with the ones we didn't even realize were clues. Everything adds up, with no noticeable plot holes. It's impressively designed.

The one area where the film falters is in the casting of Debra Messing. She's the total wrong choice for Detective Vick. Although certainly talented, the actress lacks the kind of gravitas needed to pull off this take-charge character, which proves slightly detrimental to Searching as a whole. This is a part that someone like Julianne Moore or Naomi Watts could have knocked out of the park.

In every other regard, though, Searching works. A nail-biting mystery and a touching father-daughter tale are combined with an offbeat storytelling style, and the result is an insightful look at how our online identities can either hurt or help our relationships with those we love the most.

( out of four)

Searching is rated PG-13 for thematic content, some drug and sexual references, and for language. The running time is 1 hour and 42 minutes.

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