Character actor supreme Richard Kind has excelled at playing more than a few schlemiels during his four decades in showbiz, which has included more than 230 film and television roles in addition to plenty of live theater, from LA and Chicago to Broadway (The Producers, The Big Knife). The sixty-two-year-old Trenton native, who has had recurring parts in Mad about You, Gotham, Spin City, and Red Oaks and played key roles in such films as A Serious Man in addition to voices in the Cars and Toy Story franchises, takes center stage in the bittersweet indie film Auggie, which opened this weekend at Cinema Village.
Kind stars as Felix Greystone, a mensch who is forced into retirement by his architecture firm, which gives him a pair of augmented reality glasses as a going-away present. Felix immediately feels lonely and useless without a job; his daughter, Grace (Simone Policano), is moving in with her boyfriend, Ben (Steven Robertson); and his wife, Anne (Susan Blackwell), has been offered a promotion that will mean longer hours and more close contact with her boss, Jack (James C. Victor). Not knowing what to expect, Felix puts the glasses on and is shocked to find a virtual beautiful young woman who calls herself Auggie (Christen Harper) suddenly next to him. Since she came from his mind, she is seemingly everything he desires in a woman, everything he thinks he is missing in a companion now that he is by himself so much. But the more time he spends with his new imaginary friend, the more potential trouble awaits.
Debut feature director Matt Kane, a Ken Loach protégé who wrote the script with actor Marc Underhill, has made a poignant and insightful film about loneliness and losing one’s value in life, particularly as one ages. Felix is a good guy with an exemplary family, but when too much changes all at once, he doesn’t know where to turn, and the alluring fantasy projected by the glasses becomes addicting — on purpose. One of the most subtle and enjoyable aspects of the film is the way viewers glimpse just how addicting those glasses are built to be; how, like the games on our phones, they are programmed to take us just one step further, to just one purchase more. Kane walks a fine line between male wish fulfillment and outright misogyny; it is doubtful Auggie, a sort of suburban, subdued version of Spike Jonze’s her, could have been written and directed by a woman. But it’s Kind’s riveting, gentle performance that saves the film from devolving into Skinemax territory. He’s an everyman here, embodying the fears of so many people in their later years, when choices are scarcer and the wrong one can result in losing everything one’s constructed so carefully.