Searching is a refreshing film. Although the plot isn’t as graceful as I expected it to be, the movie serves up enough novelties to redeem it.
Unfolding entirely on a desktop screen, the movie is about a father, David Kim (John Cho), looking for his missing daughter, Margot (Michelle La), through a police investigation. It’s no typical search, though; Asian-Americans can imagine what it might be like if their father decided to set out on a mission to save his daughter. Google spreadsheets are happening. Vaguely neurotic over-protective tendencies bubble to the surface. Wildly misinformed “I know my daughter, trust me” feelings arise.
Honest representations of the Asian-American experience on screen have been long overdue. We need more movies like Searching — movies that aren’t conscious of overplayed stereotypes and don’t stoop to the level of culturally uninformed audiences. We see piano lessons (practice every day with Mom), we see persistently naggy parents, we see the broken father-daughter relationship because of the well-meaning-but-emotionally-stifled David.
On top of that is the movie’s entirely new take on filmmaking. If our lives are so inextricable from technology, then why not film an entire movie through that medium? Instead of watching through a camera behind the fourth wall, the audience engages with the story through David’s personal computer, Margot’s laptop and CCTV recordings. Conversations always happen through Skype or FaceTime. The search is more digital than it is physical — we see David’s internet browsing habits as he frantically searches on Facebook and Google, his expressions peeking through in an always-open FaceTime window adjacent to the web browser.
Director and co-writer Aneesh Chaganty is spot on in his approach; so many of today’s real-life mysteries unfold exclusively on the Internet. So much of communication happens online. New relationships no longer always form in person. All of these truths which have been, for the most part, ignored in large screen films, are fully embraced in this movie. While in other movies, audiences are often left scratching their heads because That One Clue could have been found by a simple Google search, this one is technically savvy and knows how to stalk its characters the way the audience knows how too.
The movie sits at an interesting juxtaposition; we’re familiar with technology and we’re familiar with film, but we aren’t used to both coexisting as a medium of communication. Chaganty definitely plays with this to some degree, as he uses the lack of interpersonal relationships to withhold information. Because the audience is used to an up close and personal camera in which the cinematography is part of the storytelling, this movie robs us of using that built-up film intuition to jump to conclusions. Instead, we know exactly as much as David does because we are literally seeing exactly what he is.
With that said, Searching also demonstrates the downsides that come with leaning on Internet surfing as a way to tell a story. Because the internet is such an information-driven tool, Searching falls victim to this in its writing. Instead of a flawed protagonist driving the suspicion through the movie with accumulating tension and fear, we’re served bite-sized plot points that are quickly resolved within the next ten minutes. There is little opportunity to really develop character relationships, especially the ones that could have led to a bigger emotional impact (one relationship involving Detective Vick, to name one with massive untapped potential). Even the biggest twist at the end isn’t given the time it needs to sink in. Right afterwards, we cut to an oversimplified ending.
Still, Searching is one of the first of its kind and it deserves recognition for that feat. Let’s hope to see more of this in the future — both the funky internet storytelling and the Asian-American casting. With movies like Crazy Rich Asians and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, and Searching’s early box-office success, it definitely seems to be the time for the latter.
Celine Choo is a junior in the College of Engineering. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.