In near future Brooklyn, trim-bearded ad exec David (writer-director Benjamin Dickinson) lands an exciting new account – Augmenta, a nextgen Google Glass with added cyber bells and whistles the film is slightly leery of explaining. There’s a nice, tiny grace note early on as just before the big meeting with the Augmenta folk, David has to show his not-that-much-older boss (Gavin McInnes) how the gadget’s interface works – showing just how easy it is for even tech-savvy folk to lag behind. David’s big idea is to give a prototype pair of glasses to a ‘genius-level creative’ and see what comes out – on the principle that a free-thinker will discover uses for the tech that the buttoned-down designers haven’t envisioned. The chosen subject is irrepressible multi-media maven Reggie Watts – who comes over as such a colossal tool that it’s a slight surprise to see that he’s a real comedian-musician playing himself in possibly the most unflattering self-portrait since Jerry Lewis in The Bellboy.
While Reggie is tinkering with the gizmo, David’s life falls apart – his yoga teacher girlfriend Juliette (Nora Zehetner) has a work crisis as she is alternately threatened by and attracted to blatantly white-guy-passing-for-Indian rival Govindas (Paul Manza); the dull pharmaceutical ad job (for a smokable panic attack suppressant) he was promised he wouldn’t have to do any more keeps leaving loose ends he can’t get anyone else to tie off; and he’s obsessed with Sophie (Alexia Rasmussen), the blonde girlfriend of his philandering photographer friend Wim (Dan Gill). In real life, he helps designer/seamstress Sophie land a gig at the ad agency but is awkward when it comes to making any moves on her, so he uses the Augmenta spex to create a virtual Sophie (with enlargable boobs) – she’s practically the only thing in colour in this Manhattan-look black and white film – with whom he starts having an affair (basically, jerking off in hotel rooms while an avatar who is only detailed from the front bounces on him) that he can’t distinguish from his reality. Popping pills and drinking heavily don’t help with David’s hold on the actual, unaugmented world – and there’s a triple-reverse irony in the ending where everyone seems to get what they want but no one is exactly happy about it.
Dickinson is all over his first feature, which doesn’t quite tread the fine line between celebrating and satirisng the vapid lifestyle it indulges in – the protagonist is a whining, self-pitying creep, and no one in his orbit is much better, but they’re also all living in a highly artificial world. When Wim bombards him with pictures of the models he’s having sex with, David tells his friend ‘your life is a movie’ – which is the literal truth since his photo sessions are lifted entire from Blowup. It’s quite wide-ranging in its influences – Allen, Antonioni, Kubrick (including classical music selections from A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon and the carpet from The Shining) – but settles into a blip of domestic s-f films about near-future tech which include Her (Gill looks distractingly like Joaquin Phoenix in that), Ex Machina and the TV show Humans even as it tells a story that could as easily be an arc from Mad Men or any other satire of the beyond-satire advertising industry.
Some of the extended conversations have a theatrical feel – a dinner table argument as Juliette tells David she’s found out a key element used in Augmenta is mined by children who get their arms cut off by warlords is a well-timed sketch in itself, highlighting the selfishness of both characters, but further demonstrates you wouldn’t want to spend an evening with either of them (a problem for the film since that’s exactly what it makes you do). It’s more interesting than good, but its tech is credible – that you get a sense that there is enormous potential to Augmenta which none of these characters can see is even a well-made point, though the reveal that interactive porn is likely to be a bigger bonus feature than nebulous feelbad art-shock can be seen coming from a long way off.