Netflix movie The App is an Italian psychodrama about a young man whose cushy life is upended after he becomes obsessed with a woman he meets on a sketchy dating app. If the story of someone who loses their marbles and/or soul due to compulsively staring at a screen hits a little too close to home, well, enjoy your first-world existence! So, yes, the movie is absolutely timely, but does it have something meaningful to say about our overconnected existence?
THE APP: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: Nick (Vincenzo Crea) has a life many of us envy: A partner he loves dearly, a megarich family and the freedom to pursue whatever he wishes. Don’t worry, fellow schadenfreudites — it’ll all crumble soon enough! We meet him in Los Angeles, making the beast with two backs with his girlfriend, Eva (Jessica Cressy). In the afterglow, she pushes him to download a dating app and experiment with it, because she’s writing her dissertation about love and algorithms or something. He reluctantly agrees — then jets home to Italy, where he’ll star in his first movie, playing Jesus Christ his damn self.
Nick checks into a swank hotel, where he meets Ofelia (Greta Scarano), his assistant-slash-housekeeper. She frequently wanders into the frame, wearing mysterious facial expressions like Lenny Kravitz wears a humongous scarf, which is to say, auspiciously. Ofelia returns to her room and takes off a barbed metal S&M thingie that wraps around her thigh like the Shroud of Turin. Yipes! In another scene, she lugs a big neon-pink cross to her Crazy Church. Will this mean something eventually? Maybe!
Anyway, Nick ignores all the women who reach out to him on the app; some seem a little too young and/or unclothed. But one is persistent, and once he relents, his life unravels like a Kravitz scarf after a speeding Ferrari snags a loose yarn. Nick’s acrophobia kicks in during a crucifixion screen test. (Yipes again!) His sort-of estranged father pressures him to take on a role at the family corp, valued at $400 million, and he resists; the situation has him at odds, since he lives off the family dime, which allows him to pursue his passion for acting. Eva flies in to deliver some important news. Ofelia glowers and purses her lips like she’s trying to comprehend the words of someone speaking an unfamiliar language. He has a couple panic attacks, and the Jesus movie production is about to derail. And this woman on the other side of the app keeps wild-goose-chasing him with only her voice. Something’s got to give.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Director Elisa Fuksas accents his shots with neon lighting and aims for an existential creepiness, two riffs cribbed from fetishmaster Nicolas Winding-Refn’s songbook. And the more the voice keeps wrapping its virtual fingers around Nick’s throat, the more the film seems to be ripping off Her.
Performance Worth Watching: Crea and Cressy enjoy decent screen presence, and they’re forced to make the best of a screenplay that never really gives them solid character footholds.
Memorable Dialogue: Nick’s pre-teen brother directs a real gutbuster of a rhetorical question at him: “Isn’t it enough just to be rich?”
Sex and Skin: Some artsy, abstract nudity as Nick and Eva schtup; Ofelia wears see-through clothing.
Our Take: Somebody took an M-60 and Rambo’d this plot. The first hole opens when Eva pushes Nick to fart around with a kinky dating app, and she never even considers a single implication of this oddly risky maneuver. No matter, because she never follows up on her intent to use him as a research tool. Her character is wildly inconsistent, and is never more implausible than when she fails to dump his ass after he sends her VERTICALLY SHOT video of the gorgeous Italian scenery. Ugh. Plenty of fish in the sea, Eva.
Fuksas frequently deemphasizes narrative coherence for vibey provocation. And even then, the stuff that we’re supposed to find arousing or tantalizing is muted and bland — or grossly obvious, e.g., all the religious imagery that tears through the movie like a tank shell. Few of these red herrings ever really come together, and the film delivers a climactic twist that’s ineffective not because we can see it coming with the naked eye, but because it’s so forgettable. The App is trying to say something about God and family and social media, but the only message to be gleaned from it is PUT YOUR PHONE DOWN ONCE IN A WHILE. And I think we already know that?
Our Call: SKIP IT. The App reminds us that there’s a fine line between being suggestive and being vague.