Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Satire that resembles its target this closely risks losing its humorous value - after all, one could equally well laugh at the real thing."

"Go west!" they used to say. And "Get on your bike!" and "Work smart!" Fortune is always, supposedly, just over the horizon. So how does one become billionaire today? Raj (Varun Saranga) has latched onto a similarly generic idea with the same conviction, the same purity of purpose. He'll create an app. It will be the next big thing. Then all his dreams will come true. He has no idea what the app will do but that doesn't see important because he's pretty sure he can finance and market it and that's what matters, right?

The precision with which Eli Batalion's film captures the beliefs and behaviours of people caught up in this delusion and the industries built around it is impressive and some viewers will no doubt find it hilarious, but it's also the film's greatest weakness. Satire that resembles its target this closely risks losing its humorous value - after all, one could equally well laugh at the real thing. Whilst there's certainly room for comedy to be constructed around this theme, doing it successfully is quite a challenge, and despite a track record that has won him a loyal fan following, Batalion can't quite pull it off. He depends on the theme too much and there isn't enough substance to the rest to work around its shortcomings.

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Beyond the story of the start-up and its efforts to make money from an app, the film revolves around Raj's relationship with co-founder Eric (played by Batalion himself), a former schoolfriend with whom he still has issues; and Eric's developing romance with developer Jeanine (Amber Goldfarb), a big step for him since he's basically never had the confidence to speak to a woman before. Goldfarb is by far the strongest performer in the film and gives Jeanine a depth and complexity that makes it possible to care about what happens to her. She's sidelined of course - a necessary choice so that the film can address issues around male entitlement and Eric's dawning awareness of the gulf between Raj's vision of the world and reality. Batalion makes sure that the film itself doesn't reflect the problems it's addressing by including several competent female characters, all of whom fit neatly into the nerd universe he's depicting.

Batalion and Saranga themselves are at their best when on familiar ground, bickering with on another or (in the latter's case) arguing with a father who wants him to commit to the family business. Saranga has is slick marketing speech down pat but needs a better vehicle with which to make something of it. In the end, the points that Appiness has to make are all rather obvious and there's little tension or sense of momentum. It may have niche appeal to those who already know this world better than they'd like to. Beyond that, it's unlikely to connect.

Reviewed on: 26 Jan 2020
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Two former best friends get together to try and develop the next great app, with the aim of becoming billionaires.

Director: Eli Batalion

Writer: Eli Batalion

Starring: Eli Batalion, Varun Saranga, Amber Goldfarb, Derek Johns, Jayne Heitmeyer

Year: 2018

Runtime: 82 minutes

Country: Canada


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