Movie Review – Appiness
Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
Last year, HBO’s Silicon Valley aired its final episode. For those who thought it was one of the best comedies of the past decade, it will be missed. However, the void left can be partially filled with this lighthearted title from writer-director Eli Batalion, who takes what would be an entire season of Silicon Valley and compresses it down to 80 minutes or so. Two unlikely guys from Montreal, Québec, enter the tech world to design an app, or program for people’s smartphones, that they think will revolutionize things or at least make them some money. Of course, there are some bumps and hurdles for them to overcome. Along the way, an unlikely romance begins to build.
Batalion stars as Eric Newman, a man who just turned 29. He works in digital marketing. He’s revealed to have gone to a top-notch university where he picked up a thing or two about computer programming and coding. His skill-set isn’t exactly clear, but he clearly knows enough to help put together, either create or design, a smartphone app. Yet, he has no impetus to do so. He’s also revealed to be a musician who can play several instruments and even write songs. The songs might not be that good, but he does have a bit of a passion for it. Unfortunately, he has no impetus to do that either. In this scenario, he would be the equivalent of Thomas Middleditch’s character in Silicon Valley, but simply not with the same drive, especially not the same drive for tech.
He can do all these things, but he behaves very much like a turtle afraid to come out his shell, which is why a turtle becomes his online avatar. He’s called a “Renaissance man-child,” which is at once both a compliment and an insult. He looks like a chubby, Canadian version of Nick Kroll and he’s certainly the kind of guy who couldn’t chug a pint of beer without spilling it on himself. Yet, his life takes a turn after two people enter his life and get him a bit out of his shell.
Varun Saranga (Wyonna Earp and Schitt’s Creek) co-stars as Rajinder Patel aka “Raj.” He’s a schoolmate that Eric used to have before going off to college. They used to be friends but haven’t seen each other in years, if not a decade or more. Raj works at a clothing cleaners run by his family, but he wants out of it, so he can do something more exciting and that might make him more cash. Raj pushes Eric to start a tech company designing an app for the ages. If this were Silicon Valley, some might see Raj as the character played by Kumail Nanjiani, but that would be wrong. Nanjiani’s character was Pakistani, whereas Raj is clearly Indian. If anything, Raj comes off more like Aziz Ansari’s character from Parks and Recreation with the same kind of vibe and energy.
The aforementioned romance that begins to build could have conceivably been between Eric and Raj. They do after all share a bed, sleeping practically naked next to each other. If so, I would’ve been down for the queer version of Silicon Valley, although technically HBO already gave audiences that through the second season of Looking. Yet, I digress. Eric and Raj share a bed due to financial troubles that force them to lose their apartments and move in with Eric’s parents. It’s a comedic avenue that isn’t explored much here, aside from a quick montage showing Eric and Raj in bed together. If this were a series like Silicon Valley, more could have been devoted to two 29-year-olds moving in with one of their parents and the awkwardness of their sleeping arrangements.
Amber Goldfarb has done a lot of television, but she’s done quite a bit more vocal work for video games. She’s certainly an actress that would be appropriate for this film about the tech world. She plays Jeanine, the possibly perfect person to bring Eric and Raj into the tech world. She’s obviously impressed with Eric. She appreciates his musical talent, but they bond the most over things like their mutual love for Microsoft Excel. She’s turned on by what she dubs his “dorkitude,” which is a portmanteau of dork and attitude.
Eric is plainly smitten with her. He of course is awkward about it, unable to make a move to ask her out or make any kind of pass. This isn’t simply due to his dorky or nerdy attitude but also a general lacking in communication skills on his part. He’s straight up bad at communicating. He constantly fails at presentations at work. The app in a lot of ways is to help him overcome those problems. Yet, at issue is whether or not he can make real connections with people through this app or his phone in general. It’s a question of whether he believes this app or any app can make him happy. Can an app bring happiness? Maybe not, but maybe the engagement with people in real-life as opposed through apps and avatars can, which is more the underlining point of this film.
Not Rated but contains some language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 22 mins.
Available on VOD on Jan. 28, via Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu and Cable VOD.