Auggie review – watchable hi-tech satire doesn’t quite know what to say

Richard Kind is compelling as the retiree seduced by a VR ‘companion’, but the film fails to do much with its rather familiar premise

The face of American character actor Richard Kind – melancholy, hangdog, a little dyspeptic – is exactly right for this high-concept midlife satire from director and co-writer Matt Kane. It’s a variation on a familiar theme the time is the near future and Kind plays Felix, an architect in his 60s who has been pushed out of the firm he helped build and is now at home grumpily adjusting to unwanted retirement. His busy wife and grownup daughter have no great need of him these days so poor, emasculated Felix takes comfort in his hi-tech retirement gift: a pair of “Auggie” glasses, through which the wearer can see an “augmented reality companion”, a virtual-reality hologram of exactly the kind of submissively understanding person your subconscious wants to see – in Felix’s case, an extremely attractive young woman (played by newcomer Christen Harper).

Felix understands that this is just a projection, a geisha hallucination programmed to respond with the right answers and expressions. But inevitably he begins to fall in love with her, and toys with the “extra” that Auggie owners are invited to purchase: a pair of hi-tech underpants that will allow him to feel his Auggie companion intimately, while his wife is out all day at her prestigious job.

This is a movie comparable to Spike Jonze’s Her, in which Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with the Siri-type computer voice played by Scarlett Johansson, and Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, in which Domhnall Gleeson is entranced by the AI robot played by Alicia Vikander; and like those films it creates a dreamy mood of indulgent comedy. Auggie is squeamish about straying into out-and-out nightmare or complete black-comic absurdity, and in fact it isn’t as interesting as Michael Almereyda’s Marjorie Prime with Jon Hamm as the VR hologram of an elderly woman’s late husband, recreated in his younger years.

Maybe inevitably, this movie doesn’t quite know where to go after the initial premise, but Kind is watchable as the self-pitying and pathetic Felix.

• Auggie is released on 19 April on digital platforms.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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