By Laurie Coker
What if someone could read your mind? And what if that someone came in the guise of a life-like AI image? Such is the case in Auggie, an Indy film co-written and directed by writer-director Matt Kane and Marc Underhill. Starring Richard Kind, Auggie plods along much like its lead character, as a slogging pace in a gray world. Kind’s performance outshines Kane and Underhill’s tale like a bright light in a dense fog.
Dubbed as a sci-fi movie, Auggie takes augmented reality into the mind of a middle (or later) aged man whose life has dramatically changed and basically stalled, while his wife’s flourishes. Felix (Kind), after being forced to retire, moves through his bland world like a lost soul. As a parting gift, his associates send him home with a set of Auggie glasses – not a watch as he had hoped. The glasses offer a chance to escape reality by introducing wearers to an AI persona that represents the choice (fantasy) from the mind of the user. In Felix’s case, “Auggie” is a beautiful, attentive, friendly young woman (Christen Harper) who says and does all the right things.
One can easily where a character like Felix can easily step onto shaky ground with a pair of glasses that allow for fantasies to come true. In his loneliness, as his wife takes on more hours, Felix falls for Auggie, who does nothing more than be all that he wants her to be. Kind is fabulous – filling the moping, sad-sack shoes of a man whose lumbers along like a sleepwalker through life. Harper glides through her role like a beautiful specter who subtly teases Felix without true intention. The pairing is stunning if for nothing more than the stark contrast between the two. There is this low hum of a charming connection where none is truly possible.
First-time director Kane deserves praise for the inherent beauty in his shots. Still, the story harkens previous films like Her (starring Joaquin Phoenix) and going way back, the B-film Electric Dreams. With little newness in the premise, Kane justifiably relies on his leading man. Felix’s experience begs the ethical questions – is a relationship with an AI cheating? Do we have moral culpability in fantasy relationships? While Felix is living out his fantasies with Auggie, his wife has similar thoughts about her boss – is she cheating? Auggie doesn’t give us the answers, but it gives us food for thought. This little Indy nugget earns a B in the grade book.