New Streaming Releases: Appiness (2020) - Reviewed

Appiness is a strange beast.  Equal parts social satire, (hilariously) bizarre rom-com, and a heartwarming story about following your dreams, this is one of the first unique offerings of the year.  Mixing awkward performances, vibrant cinematography, and an unexpected retread of familiar waters, this is an above bar comedic experience.  

Recently laid off Eric runs into an old high school acquaintance Raj and the pair hatch a scheme to develop the next "It" thing in social media apps.  What follows is an embarrassingly funny journey of friendship, love, and self discovery.  Eli Batalion, wrote, directed, and stars as Eric.  It's easy to dismiss this as yet another low budget throwaway due to the production values and disjointed script, however, underneath the imperfections lies a surprisingly charming story about a generation in disinterest.  Eric and Raj (Varun Saranga) are symbols, Eric the quiet, social outcast and Raj is (initially) an amalgam of every Aziz Anzari performance from the last decade.   

However, as the story evolves, each of the principals is given a chance not only to reveal their true natures, but also to embrace the playful madness of Batalion’s electronic kingdom.  It also becomes clear that the art direction and cinematography’s “cardboard candyland” ambiance is with intent, mirroring a world of Facebook tribes and Instagram Monarchs. Saranga and Batalion’s chemistry is the film's centerpiece, as the two attempt to achieve "fame", something they don't truly understand.  Rounding out the cast is Amber Goldfarb as Jeanine.  One of the best surprises of Appiness is in how it leans heavy into rom-com tropes and then avoids them like the plague and Goldfarb's performance is perhaps the best part of this realization.  The end result of a trio of solid performances that anchors the film. 

One thing that becomes apparent within seconds is that this isn't a mean-spirited venture. A lot of comedies of this type attempt to satirize through edginess or even over the top antics.  Appiness is a reflection of 2020, a snapshot of the day to day struggle.  The difference is that Eric and his coven of tecno-magicians have no idea what they want, only a socially fabricated form of success, and it is this truth that elevates the picture over the throngs of forgettable micro comedies.  While its flaws almost threaten to crack the veneer, there is a charm that runs through it, an unmistakable signature of its creator's love for the world around us.  

Now available for digital streaming, Appiness is the perfect choice for a Friday night stay at home date.   It's not groundbreaking or world changing, it is however, very funny whenever it stops trying to be.  Underneath tech jargon and flashy dialogue is a story about connection and the beauty of embracing one’s flaws and talents.  While it is most certainly a mixed bag of strange stereotypes and scathing takedowns of our technology obsessed society, it is a clear signal that Batalion and his troupe are dedicated to their craft. 

--Kyle Jonathan