For every debut feature I review, particularly those funded from the smallest and most independent of production companies, there should be an assumption, if I don’t say it explicitly, that I have nothing but respect for the brave directors leaping into something incomparable to anything else. Nothing is easy in filmmaking least of all if it’s your first real attempt, and no matter the final product, the effort is to be applauded.
Eli Batalion is no exception and his work with his feature debut “Appiness”, while lacking in critical areas, are surprisingly solid and well worthy of applause. The film follows Eric (Batalion), an almost-thirty stuck in a dead-end job he hates, and Raj (Varun Saranga), his high school buddy in almost the exact same situation except he’s good with women and Eric isn’t. Once both free of their hated vocations they find themselves lead to one idea, to make an app so successful that when they sell it to the highest bidder, they’ll never have to work another day in their lives.
Things don’t go exactly according to plan, as anyone who has ever seen a movie would guess. In fact, there’s an air of predictability marring the entire film; quite simply nothing happens that feels like any form of original thought. The only saving grace in this respect is the humour. It’s nothing new, there’s too much toilet humour and a lot of very on the nose sexual references, yet beyond all odds and logic, the film is quite funny. There’s plenty of laugh out loud humour especially from the utterly silly friendship between Raj and Eric who share so much and yet aren’t even really friends.
All in all, they are likeable characters, all of them. As a trio, when including Eric’s love interest Jeanine (Amber Goldfarb), they are uniquely endearing. Unfortunately, despite this being a strength of the film, it becomes more of a detriment. Their friendship, and the whole film for that matter, has the distinct feeling that it would have worked better in a television format. Despite dramatic reaches for inspirational moments and attempts at heartfelt silver screen romance Appiness never feels like more than an extended sitcom episode. The many quirky side characters don’t help in this respect, like tech blogger Sierra (Jayne Heitmeyer) who is a not so secret dominatrix, or Vito (Carl Alacchi) the mob boss with a thrown in and needless cameo that only amounts to him being fooled into the film’s resolution.
Looking further only reveals a tragic lack of depth. Everything is surface level with only the potential to matter rather than actually meaning anything. Both Eric and Raj have deep engrained family issues that only result in gags and cheap payoffs. And the romance angle amounts to quiet guy gets girl just because they meet coincidentally and like computers. The pieces are there, it is perfectly modern in terms of the overarching story, the characters are likable, the performances are strong in the aspects they need to be, but when there’s no substance, not even a façade, then what’s the point of watching?
And even after saying all that I think there’s something here. There’s a moment in the film, where Eric and Raj argue on a bridge where everything feels important and complete as if finally capturing all of what Batalion intended. It’s the best shot in all of Appiness and the beauty of it inspires the characters words to actually mean something, if this moment can be taken and expanded upon something quite wonderful could come out of it.
Despite a likeable cast and some funny moments, Appiness lacks too much depth to be considered worthwhile.
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