Her (Spike Jonze, 2013). Sneakily sci-fi. Her takes place in an unidentified future that seems enough like our present that it goes unnoticed at first. Yes, everyone is constantly talking to their mobile devices and computers, but that in itself isn’t different enough to get our attention. Eventually you realize that all of the recognizable things are slightly more advanced … people don’t talk to their phones in quite the same way that we do. We enter the future more clearly when Joaquin Phoenix’s Theodore installs a new operating system on his computer that seems like version 8.0 of Google Now or Siri. At first, it’s just better at things than our current models, but gradually we learn that “Samantha” is not just better, but more. When Theodore tells friends about Samantha, he says she is an OS, and for the most part, no one blinks. He even goes on a “double date” with a friend, in which Samantha, along for the outing via portable devices, is the life of the party. Everyone is just slightly more alienated than we are … the movie is dystopian that way. But the relationship between Theodore and Samantha is treated with the respect we give to anything “real”, despite the obvious problems in pairing a human and a machine. Her doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know, but its quirky presentation (the architecture of the future seems right on target) offers a novelty factor. The real novelty, though, comes from Scarlett Johansson as the voice of Samantha. Apparently Samantha Morton was the original actress, and after the movie was shot, Jonze decided it didn’t quite work and hired Johansson to do Samantha’s part from the beginning. Due respect to Morton, a fine actress, but it is impossible to imagine Her without Johansson’s voice. Her just-this-side-of-deadpan speech fits well with a “robot”, and of course, her voice is famously enticing in ways that make it understandable that Theodore falls for her. There’s also the fact that we recognize the voice, and although Samantha has no body, we can’t help but imagine Scarlett Johansson in the flesh. She steals the movie. #149 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 250 films of the 21st century. 8/10. For another Scarlett Johansson movie, there’s always Ghost World. For a lesser-known Phoenix, try Two Lovers.
Drinking Buddies (Joe Swanberg, 2013). I’ve never quite understood what “mumblecore” was, but this movie is supposed to be an example of the genre, so I looked it up on Wikipedia. There, mumblecore is described as “a subgenre of American independent filmcharacterized by low budget production values and amateur actors, heavily focused on naturalistic dialogue.” We are also told that mumblecore often features a lot of improvisation. Drinking Buddies is low-budget and improvised, although the actors are not amateurs: Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston, Jason Sudeikis. It’s a bit like a rom-com without the com, but director/”writer”/editor Joe Swanberg confounds the usual trappings of romantic comedies. The ultimate status of relationships is left up in the air for the most part, and the moral of the story seems to be that it’s better to be best friends than to be lovers. The acting is fine, and I didn’t know the movie was improvised until after I’d seen it (although in retrospect, it seems more clear). I liked it about as much as I liked the only other mumblecore movies from Wikipedia’s list that I have seen (Tiny Furniture and Frances Ha). 7/10. Companion pieces? Well, Tiny Furniture and/or Frances Ha, of course.
Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962). 9/10.