Sunday, January 12, 2014

Spike Jonze and HER: a review of disproportions, stabs at Sofia Coppola.

 like most other avid cinema goers, especially those that are into art house films, I have been watching the trailer for Her for at least six months, and I had all but fallen in love with the idea: a handsome, mustached lonely guy in polyester pants that finds some kind of other-worldly, mystifying communion with a voice. I fell in love with the colors, the flashbacks of memories of his wife; I fell in love with that mushy but sincere song that Johansson sings about being on the moon and floating in space with you a million miles away.

I was a fairly easy sell. even walking into the theater yesterday, I was slightly taken aback that Her was in such a tiny theater it's first weekend, especially at a theater in Tampa that definitely loves to premier art house films. when I was 15, I started working at this theater, and I became a projectionist fairly quickly. I watched films like Fight Club and The Virgin Suicides in these tiny backdrop theaters, and they kind of changed my life, especially The Virgin Suicides, written and directed by Sofia Coppola, Spike Jonze's ex wife: this is the valuable to mention part.

if ex lovers' relationships can play out in poetry, novels, on social media websites and trash magazines, then it is worth mentioning that they can also play out in film, especially when it is a relationship between two directors that tend to create their own worlds from the worlds around them or the worlds that they think should be set forth before them or how they think the world should be, as Samantha says in Her, "memories are just stories that we tell ourselves."

but here is the problem and it is the problem I have always had with Spike Jonze's films, even though I watch them all and really, really, really try to give them a fair shake. I've tried to like Being John Malkovich at least 5 times because, well, everyone likes it and I feel like there must be something I cannot see, but mostly, I think it's got this scummy feeling that I just can't shake. I thought Adaptation was okay if I could consider it an adventure film, which it is not, but it was  mostly okay because of the budget and the actors pulled into play roles that one could easily imagine them existing in. of course Meryl Streep is a New York writer with a double life, of course Nicholas Cage is some dowdy, confused, middle aged man that struggles with the simplest things, and of course Chris Cooper is the wild man. duh. And Where the Wild Things Are was just awful; it was poorly written, poorly put together, and there was no purpose. Critics defining it as misunderstood and "what it's like to be a child" gave me hope, the hope I always have when I watch a Spike Jonze film, but it felt empty and cagey.

and that is one of my major problems with Spike Jonze: I find everything he does as soulless, but Her let me down the most because I had the highest expectations, even though, for four reasons, I was resistant:

1. he cast Scarlett Johansson as a bodiless sexual wonder. Bodiless is the key because Sofia Coppola made Scarlett Johansson a sex symbol in Lost in Translation, which is the script she wrote in days while she was working on Marie Antoinette; also, it is a script that depicts her marriage to Spike Jonze and his cheating on her with Cameron Diaz.

2. in the previews, he used music that Dustin O' Halloran composed for Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette

3. it's those sunlight, soft light flashbacks of Rooney Mara. that is a Sofia Coppola trademark. she always always always uses sunlight, soft light close ups to signify memories, and most of The Virgin Suicides is composed of these shots.

4. the bedroom looks incredible similar to the hotel room in Lost in Translation especially the alone-in-the-early morning-looking-out-this-huge-window scenes.

but I still read the reviews about why Her is in the Oscar race and how Spike Jonze changed his name because he didn't want to be defined by the Spiegel catalogs and fortunes, and I read about his rad early skate films and Jackass and what not; I read what every review seems to be saying about him right now, and I want to like him, but

he's soulless, and I don't mean Andy Warhol soulless, where Warhol wanted to be a machine and he wanted people to enforce their own memories onto his art. I mean, Jonze is soulless in the way that there's no true bonds between anything. his portrayal of women (Diaz in Being John Malkovich and Adams in Her) are so disproportionate. it's like reading Baudelaire: the women of this world are lowly and have too many issues and only the ones that are unattainable-- the women that are written in the stars-- are the ones that are worshiped.

I left Her feeling just as empty as every other Spike Jonze film. there were parts that didn't tie together (like the role of the newborn baby that is shown at least twice, in flashbacks, in Rooney Mara'a arms) and poor editing choices (the only parts of the film that truly showed Theodore Twombly's growth was in montages), and the whole movie just tried so so hard to prove that Twombly is a "complex, soulful man" Also, again, it was no stretch to put Joaquin Phoenix as the main role and casting Scarlett Johansson as the intellectual sex symbol, bodiless or not. in all of Jonze's films, I find so much speculation and not enough doing. I find him attempting to be overly intellectual, but failing to find a truth, a pattern of feeling, in the end. Putting two old friends on a roof to look at the skyline and reflect on being human and being in the world is not a metaphor anymore. it's pretty much equal to meaning nothing, which is what I think Her measures up to.

No comments: