YidLife Crisis co-creator Eli Batalion makes his feature-length filmmaking debut with Appiness, a film that aspires to be a timeless buddy comedy but somewhat expires as a bland underdog story.
Batalion stars as Eric Newman, a corporate yes-man who makes a hard turn into “schlub life” after he’s laid-off from his job. In this causal headspace, he reunites with schoolmate Raj (Varun Saranga) and the two hit it off as if there was no time spent apart. They share the same resentful attitude towards corporate agendas and decide to find success with their own startup – the creation of an app that will help users skip awkward small talk to fast track new relationships. They build a team of motivated programmers, operate out of a local coffee shop, and eventually find their own boom in the oversaturated market. But, their success comes with compromises and other miscellaneous strings attached.
Appiness hardly hits any slumps as it adjusts to a cast of characters that increases throughout. Batalion and Saranga have strong chemistry during their endearing entrepreneurial endeavours, which compliments their silly banter as they unwind and brainstorm. But, they’re also able to build an appealing spectrum of relationships with actors playing supporting roles. I really enjoyed the sweet personal time between Eric and co-worker Jeanine (Amber Goldfarb), as well as the constant kidding around between Raj and his other bud Vipin (Kenneth Fernandez). These performers are having a blast acting with each other, and it’s a lot of fun to watch. Unfortunately, the story that they’re all swept up in is weak.
Appiness wants us to truly root for these characters. That’s fine, but writer/director Batalion pitches a stale set-up and forgets to moderate the lighthearted tone during these strides of encouragement. The film’s focus likes to fixate on how out of touch Eric and Raj are in a modern digital career in a similar way that The Internship mocked older businessmen for working at Google with a team of millennials. Just as 2013’s film proved, this particular fish-out-of-water scenario doesn’t provide much material; and Batalion struggles to find any new observational humour in such a premise. The filmmaker attempts to create conflict by having Raj ask for favours he can’t commit to and to have Eric cozy up to a dominant businesswoman (Jayne Heitmeyer), but these set-ups don’t provide much fuel for the plot to feed on.
Batalion delivers a satisfying ending with an inspiring message, but movie goers have to mull through a hollow second act to get there.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie