The opening montage of “Searching” brings to mind Pixar’s “Up” for its tour through a 15-year span of the lives of the Kim family. It’s a story of love, life, joys, sufferings, and loss. The really amazing thing about this film is that we see the story unfold on the computer screen.
We get to know David and Pam Kim (John Cho and Sara Sohn) through their selfies, videos, and social media accounts. When their daughter, Margot (Michelle La in present time), is born, they document her joy-filled life in pictures and cell phone vids, especially when her Mom gives her piano lessons. Then the photos slowly change as Pam finds out she has cancer and ultimately loses the battle.
In the present, two years after Pam’s death, Margot is a 16-year-old high school student. David is the single Dad texting her to remind her to take out the trash and to be home by curfew. It seems like they have a fairly communicative relationship, until Margot fails to return home from a study session one Thursday night.
When Detective Vick (Debra Messing) doesn’t turn up any leads after a couple of days, David begins combing through Margot’s laptop for clues as to where she might be. The film’s innovation comes from director Aneesh Chaganty’s choice to draw the audience in through the perspective of the computer screen. We see what David sees as he jumps from Google, to YouTube, to Instagram, to FaceTime, desperate to connect with his daughter’s “friends” to find out who last saw Margot.
At first, the idea sounds like it would make a dull movie, but Chaganty manages to keep the suspense notched up by constantly switching between Google searches and video chats between David and Vick. Cho and Messing capture the emotion of the story so well that it’s barely noticeable that you often see them on one portion of the screen, bathed only in the small light given off by a monitor.
Through all the twists and turns the investigation takes, David realizes one important thing: he doesn’t really know his daughter. Sure, they communicate about everyday things such as schoolwork and chores but when, through her social media activity, he sees that she’s been video chatting with strangers, stealing the money meant for her piano lessons, and silently struggling to come to grips with her mother’s death, David becomes determined to see things through to the end, even if the police hold little hope.
David gives himself the ‘I’m-a-bad-parent’ guilt trip when he realizes that he doesn’t know any of Margot’s friends, or the parents of her friends, or any of her deepest thoughts. He tells his brother, Peter (Joseph Lee), “I just assumed she was handling things OK.” On the outside, Margot seemed like she was fine. Inside, she was anything but.
We’ve all been through the teenage years and know that it’s a tough time. Teens don’t even want to acknowledge their parents let alone let them in on their thoughts about life. Parent/teen communication presents many challenges, especially in today’s world when so much communication happens in the digital sphere.
“Searching” is a clarion call for any parent of a teen: know your children. Of course you love them, but getting them to talk to you about what really matters takes time, persistence, and much patience. A great way to get those conversations going would be to watch “Searching” together with your teen. I promise, there will be plenty to talk about when it’s over.