Most people want to retire, but only if it’s on their own terms. That’s the position that Felix (Richard Kind) finds himself in after a long and successful run with his company as a lead design architect. He knew the time was coming, though not this fast. At his retirement party, he doesn’t receive a regal Rolex and instead is gifted a new pair of cutting-edge eyeglasses that tap into the user’s neural network and projects what the user’s subconscious wants them to see.
Felix is skeptical but decides to give the bespectacles a whirl and quickly comes invested in “Auggie” (Christen Harper), the name of the personalized companion. He’s caught between two worlds; his reality where he feels directionless with wife, Anne (Susan Blackwell) and adult daughter Grace (Simon Policano), and his fantasy companionship with Auggie, of whom makes him see things differently. Which wins out, or can they co-exist?
As we turn to the 2020’s, we’re already smack-dab in the age of artificial intelligence romantic companionship that Her examined in 2013. From RealDollix at the low, low price of $29.90/year (only available to Android users…how fitting), one can be entertained with a myriad of AI options designed to fill any void imaginable. Want to go further? Sync the application’s data to a RealDollix head, or just buy a doll from numerous websites priced anywhere from $4K-10K. And so, it’s not hard to see the base appeal of Auggie, but it is hard to see it as little more than a skinnier offering to Spike Jonze’s feature.
Auggie serves as the full-length debut of director Matt Kane. On a video-on-demand budget (this is going mostly VOD), he does a convincingly enough job of differentiating the AI scenes from the reality scenes. Many of the scenes are often accompanied by an Xbox achievement-like sound that follows immediately after the glasses are put on. Kane then draws viewers’ attention in by using close-up angle shots of his subjects. What sells these moments is a slightly different color tint (small vibes of Limitless), and the angelically symmetric visage of Harper, almost too perfect to be human. Harper, the supermodel in her first full-length movie, is firmly serviceable (an apt description for much of the cast) alongside the veteran Kind.
Kane gets the most out of his limited budget. But as a co-writer with Marc Underhill, Auggie’s script provides next to nothing to ruminate over. For one, there’s no significant opportunity to do so; an 81-minute runtime kills any chances at truly caring for any particular character. Delving deeper into what specifically brings Felix to this crossroads with attention to home and career life would have been helpful (the film begins with Felix’s retirement), as Auggie goes from 0 to 50 to 100 realyl quick with no sense of steady progression/regression. That’s problematic for the relationship with Felix’s wife, as well as his AI partner because neither feel sturdy or believable enough to go where they go.
Perhaps the biggest knock against Auggie is in its reveal—or rather, what it doesn’t choose to address and how it plays its reveal as some great, earth-shattering realization. To be vague as possible to avoid spoilers, Kane shows where Felix’s subconscious generates the pretty woman from by the end, but he doesn’t show how or why. As such, viewers may be left figuring out what the movie is trying to say. Did something happen in Felix’s past with this female? Did he secretly fetishize this? Juxtaposed with what his wife sees when she puts on the glasses, is Auggie a commentary on men tending to think with one part of their bodies and females tending to think with another? In theory it could be all of these things, but pushing this twist in the “Gotcha!” fashion requires at least a little more substance, reason, and willingness to explore sci-fi questions than indicated here.
As alluded to at the beginning, the age of artificial intelligence romantic companionship is already here. I’m betting for four thousand dollars; you could have as good of a story to tell—if not better than—Auggie’s.
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