The majority of movies are made on small budgets. The lopsided nature of money forces most projects to have to dazzle with solid acting work, a well-crafted production and/or a script that is smart …
The majority of movies are made on small budgets. The lopsided nature of money forces most projects to have to dazzle with solid acting work, a well-crafted production and/or a script that is smart enough to present ideas that stay vivid long after the viewing.
"Auggie," an extremely low-budget production, has all three elements. First-time feature film director/writer Matt Kane, better known for acting roles in "Once Upon a Time" and "Switched at Birth," makes "Auggie" compelling because he's created a production that has the potential to spark philosophical debates through an intelligent script brought to life by a cast topped by Richard Kind ("Gotham") and played out in a world that never looks cheap.
Budget aside, this makes "Auggie" worth its weight in creative gold.
Kane's first smart move was casting veteran character actor Kind as his leading man. Kind is an incredibly talented and versatile actor but would not be on many lists of top leading men in Hollywood. Casting someone who comes across more like an everyman makes it easier to connect to the story.
Kind plays Felix Greystone, a 60ish, talented architect who's forced into early retirement. As a going-away gift, he gets a pair of augmented reality smart glasses that allow him to imagine and see a companion who will match his wildest dreams. The vision he creates is Auggie (Christen Harper), a beautiful young woman who knows his every thought. That's because she is part of his every thought.
A melancholy sets in when Felix begins to doubt his worth because he no longer has a job, his daughter has started a life on her own with her boyfriend, and his wife, Anne (Susan Blackwell), has been given a big promotion where she will be working closely with a man with whom she's always had a little work crush. The more alone Felix is, the more he turns to Auggie, and that relationship slips into a new romance.
As the relationship grows, serious questions about fidelity, fantasy, fear and frustration begin to emerge. Kane's film directly deals with trying to determine when a person is actually cheating on a significant other. It's not an idea floated merely on a sexual level, but goes far below the surface to look at what if there are real feelings of love.
Kane got help in presenting the lofty ideas from Kind, who sells every second of the movie. He doesn't play him as a broken man but a person who still sees plenty of potential in his life. Kind plays the character as to deserve sympathy for his plight while at the same time making the viewer question his motives as he deals with new ambiguities.
Kind gets extra credit because so much of the movie has him playing to an empty space. His commitment to the role makes every moment with Auggie feel as scary and exciting as any new love.
The relatively unknown Harper adds the other part of the equation that makes the production work so well. There's a sweetness and concern in her eyes that sells the idea this is the kind of fantasy someone could love even if she's only a reminder of what life is like when there is meaning. She also had the task of playing scenes talking to no one, and she handles that with ease.
There will be a tendency to compare "Auggie" to the 2013 feature film "Her" starring Joaquin Phoenix as a man who falls for a computer voice. "Her" had high production values because of a bigger budget, but "Auggie" is much stronger in the way it is written and designed to be more accessible. It's a strong job out of the filmmaking gate for Kane as a director and particularly as a writer with Marc Underhill.
The biggest failing of "Auggie" is the name. It makes sense as this is the name of the fantasy-forming device but doesn't give any hint to the nature of this beautifully written and acted film.