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Empathy, Inc. Movie Review

Written by Karin Crighton

Released by Dark Star Pictures

Empathy Inc Large

Directed by Yedidya Gorsetman
Written by Mark Leidner
2018, 96 minutes, Not Rated
Released on September 13th, 2019

Starring:
Zack Robidas as Joel
Kathy Searle as Jessica
Jay Klaitz as Lester
Eric Berryman as Nicolaus

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Review:

Joel got royally screwed. His business partner stabbed him in the back faking returns, and he is out of the city on his ass. There to pick him up is his supportive wife Jessica and her irritatingly helpful parents. While Joel plans only to stay in the ‘burbs a short while, Jessica’s parents are eager for them to stay...for good. And start a family. In the house for sale across the street (talk about horror).

Panicked by bleak prospects, Joel heads out for a drink. By miraculous coincidence, an old friend, Nicolaus, is in the bar he visits, and has an investment opportunity for Joel: a higher-tech VR program that lets you physically experience life as another person; no goggles, no tethers, everything feels real. A little taste has Joel hooked. Strapped for cash, Joel decides to take his father-in-law’s help…and get him and all his retired friends to invest. What could go wrong if it’s not real? Or is it?

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Empathy, Inc. really has me stumped. I don’t know how to feel about it. I love a lot of aspects: Jessica takes her mother to task on being shockingly insensitive to poverty. Joel gets kicked in his pride by his father-in-law. Gender and identity are bent, but not quite, but kind of, but not like one would expect, but it has to be, so...hunh?

Then there are things that are endlessly frustrating. No one cares about Jessica’s struggles not landing a role she craved. The only actor of color in the main cast is consistently vilified by others. The black-and-white screening seems contrary to a plot that is falling farther into various grey territories.

It makes you think about a lot and doesn’t give you any easy answers, which I both love and loathe.

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Performance plays into the ambiguity. Zack Robidas plays Joel with that cocksure finance-guy attitude that I completely hate but is entirely appropriate for the character. I like Jay Klaitz as Lester, but he only gets to have lines well into the movie, and when his arc became critical I hadn’t gotten the background on who Lester is, why he is, and why I should care.As Jessica, Kathy Searle nails the brushed-off sense every professional actor feels at home with when nobody understands what you actually do. She’s compassionate and firm when Joel is being a real prick. But then there’s the final scene, when she has her spotlight. It’s Joel’s own self-indulgence that shines through her performance, effectively removing any empathy I’d had for Jessica during this movie. Is it supposed to be selfish? Is it supposed to be tragic? It’s only aggravating.

The most concrete thing I can say is Empathy, Inc. is it's hauntingly amorphous.

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Grades:

Movie: Twoastars Empathy Inc Small
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About The Author
Karin Crighton 01
Staff Writer | Lunatic
Karin doesn't know anything about movies, but has a lot of time and opinions to yell into the void. When she's not directing plays in and around NYC, she's watching every horror movie on every streaming service. And probably talking to a cat.
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