Movie Review: 'Auggie' Aims for Pathos, Hits Creepy
AI drama about lonely retiree hits creepy notes.
Hey, do you have a strong desire to watch well-regarded character actor Richard Kind masturbate so much that it nearly ends his marriage? No? Well then, you might want to avoid the creep-tastic new sci-fi infused 'romance' Auggie. Auggie is all about Richard Kind as a retiree who becomes far too obsessed with his new digital assistant—so obsessed that a session of living room based masturbation with his AI dreamgirl nearly ends his marriage.
Kind plays Felix, a sadsack now-former architect. It probably goes without saying that Richard Kind is playing a sadsack, that's the man's default mode since his days on TV's Mad About You, but nevertheless, it's the proper descriptor. Felix is angry about having been pushed into retirement at his architecture firm by a friend and boss who didn't even have the courtesy to attend his retirement party.
Bitter and alone at home while his wife, Ann (Susan Blackwell) earns a promotion and more responsibilities at her job in publishing, Felix is grasping for something to occupy his time. It's then that he discovers the odd going away present that his former co-workers gave him on his last day. It's a brand new pair of AI glasses with personal assistant software inside.
When Felix puts on the glasses, up pops Auggie (Christen Harper), his new virtual assistant that looks as if she is sitting across the room from him. She speaks in a conversational fashion and even appears to have a minor personality to her. That personality is merely entirely agreeable and eager to meet all of Felix's needs, but a personality nonetheless.
At first, Felix is as put off by Auggie as we in the audience are but slowly, after spending time chatting with his new augmented reality pal, he begins to like spending time with her. Auggie takes an interest in his day, helps him land consulting work, and generally keeps his bored mind active while his wife is away at work.
Things take a turn for the creepy when Auggie shows Felix an ad for a new Auggie add-on, a pair of shorts he can wear that will give him the sensation that Auggie is touching him. Auggie flirts relentlessly with Felix until finally he buys the shorts and begins spending his days... well... wearing the shorts and feeling the feel of his virtual assistant.
This is not part of some sinister plan by Auggie or her creator to fleece ol' Felix out of his money. The makers of Auggie want you to believe that what is happening in this dreadfully misguided story, is a romance. Yes: Dumpy, sad Felix is falling in love with the ever-flirtatious and inviting Auggie, who encourages his infatuation as if she too were falling in love.
In reality, Felix is, apparently for the first time, falling in love with himself? I'm not certain exactly what is going on here as Auggie is so under-written it's hard to determine what the point is beyond the gratification one old man gets from using future technology to bone a young girl. Auggie isn't real, and only responds to the desires Felix himself infuses in Auggie, and thus the falling in love with himself notion. It's a clumsy metaphor, but not much else in Auggie is anything other than clumsy.
What kind of co-workers give this kind of thing as a gift? Do they give sex software to all retiring employees, or do they just see Felix as the kind of lonely creep whom they figure should cuckold his wife for a virtual girlfriend? I recognize that Auggie is meant to be a virtual personal assistant, but out of the box, as played by Harper, 40 years younger than Kind, she's flirtatious to an uncomfortable degree from the first moment.
As directed by Matt Kane, an actor turned director best known for his roles on the television series' Switched at Birth and Once Upon a Time, Auggie is intended to be a riff on modern technology in the vein of Spike Jonze's wonderful Her. Instead, we get a series of scenes involving a retiree and onanism. Watching a 62 year old character actor pleasure himself to the sight of a woman 40 years his junior is not, in my opinion, great drama.
Poor Susan Blackwell. Blackwell is an actress of dignity and beauty who must endure being married to a schlub who nearly destroys their marriage because he can't stop jerking off while wearing glasses. The filmmakers seem to think we are on board for something dramatic here, as if these were serious Bergman-esque scenes from a marriage story. The reality is, however, that this movie does little to create any real drama and instead continuously and creepily ogles Auggie in the context of Felix masturbating to her image via futuristic technology.
Auggie is a baffling misfire of a drama. Richard Kind is a fine actor who can be funny in any context, and yet has a gravity to him for drama. He was wonderful in the Coen Brothers' masterpiece A Serious Man, where his schlubbiness had weight, and the sadness he carried appeared so heavy as to slump his shoulders from the burden of it, sadness with a physical toll. It's a remarkable performance.
I could even argue that Kind's voice work deserved Academy Award consideration for the pathos and tragedy that his vocal performance brought to the character of Bing Bong in the wonderful Pixar movie, Inside Out. All of this is to indicate that Richard Kind is capable of bringing it, and that placing him in a lead role isn't a crazy proposition.
What a shame it is then that Kind gets his leading man shot and it is something as execrable as Auggie, and playing a disloyal creep of a husband who can't keep his hands off himself long enough to keep his marriage steady. Who thought this was a good idea? In this day and age who is supposed to be, in any way, interested in the activities of a deeply obsolescent white man in his sixties? Who, especially, is interested in his creepy obsession with his sexy virtual assistant and the magic shorts that allow them to fake bone?
Ewww, Ewww, Eeeewwwww!
Auggie opens in limited release on September 20th.