Monday, January 13, 2014

Film Review: Spike Jonze's Her

When I first saw Spike Jonze's feature debut, Being John Malkovich, over fourteen years ago (has it really been that long?), I was, as some are prone to say, blown away.  To this day, I still consider the film to one of the best movies of the 1990's.  With the director's second film, 2002's Adaptation, I was not blown away so much as heatedly intrigued.  However, with each of Jonze's two follow-up films, replacing my aforementioned blown away and/or heatedly intrigued feelings, my emotions have ranged from less than mildly amused (Where the Wild Things Are) to slightly more than mildly amused (the director's latest, Her). Now don't get me wrong, Jonze is a talented director, his visual nuances are actually quite spectacular in each and every film he has made (including most of his music video work as well), but the one thing the director had going for him in his first two films, and what is missing from his latest two, is the warped genius pen of Charlie Kaufman.  One of the most fascinating screenwriters working today (that genius pen is also responsible for Human Nature, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and the writer's directorial debut, the brilliantly subversive Synecdoche, New York) made Malkovich and Adaptation flow beyond even Jonze's visual dexterity, and that is sorely lacking in the sadly tepid Wild Things and the seemingly tired Her, both written by Jonze himself.  But maybe that's just me and my deep love for pretty much everything Charlie Kaufman touches.

Perhaps I am being a bit too harsh on Her. It is far from a bad film, and to be honest, I enjoyed it more than I enjoyed most Hollywood movies this year.  Maybe my 'more than mildly amused' should be upgraded to 'fun but not the funnest.'  Who knows?  The story is interesting and offbeat (which is usually my kinda thing) but it does tend to drag and sometimes repeat itself, as if it really didn't know how else to fill the void of the middle of a movie.  The storyline by the way, goes a little something like this: Her is the quirky tale of a lonely writer who falls in love with his computer's operating system (my favourite part of the story is how most people in this slightly futuristic landscape, don't even find such a thing strange or unusual) and how relationships are the same no matter who the partners may be.  Like I said, it is an interesting tale, but Jonze's lack of narrative interest and way of shallowly filling these gaps in interest (of course, as the director is wont to do, there are some rather hipstery shoe-gazing songs tossed in there to annoy anyone with even a modicum of musical taste), just makes this critic wonder even more what the film would have ended up being like if Kaufman were around to write the damn thing.

But again, perhaps I am being a bit to harsh on the old girl.  Every time I say I like the film alright, I go off on a tangent about how it could be better with Kaufman, and let's face it, many a film would probably be better with Kaufman at the writing desk, so we probably shouldn't keep thinking coulda woulda shoulda thoughts, and just say that Her is more than mildly amusing, and is indeed fun, though not the funnest.  After all, we do get yet another bravura performance, this time at the other end of the emotional spectrum than the actor's other recent work in The Master or his installationesque performance piece-cum-docudrama I'm Still Here, from the mighty Joaquin Phoenix.  And even with its drawbacks, Her is a charming and rather quaint little film.  It's quite cute, indeed.  Still though, one must wonder what Charlie Kaufman could have done with such a creative story idea.  Okay, okay, maybe I did like the film more than I let on, and yes, perhaps my desire to see what the all-powerful Mr. Kaufman would do with the material is not enough of a cinematic foible to toss away an otherwise fun (but not the funnest) film.  So there.



This review can also be read over at my main site, All Things Kevyn.

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