Spike Jonze, former husband of Francis Ford Coppola’s director daughter Sofia (1999-2003) has created, in this year’s Oscar-nominated film “Her,” a futuristic tale of how things might become. Or perhaps it is a tale of how things already are?
Spike Jonze (birth name in 1969, Adam Spiegel) is a three-time nominee in the 2013 Oscar race, with his film nominated for Best Film, Best Original Screenplay (for which it has already won Golden Globe and Writers’ Guild of America Awards) and for Best Song (“The Moon Song”). Jonze was also nominated as Best Director in 1999 for “Being John Malkovich,” scripted by Charlie Kaufman, so this makes 4 nominations.
Will “Her” win the Best Picture Oscar on March 2nd?
No, but it has a very good chance to pick up Best Original Screenplay, and—given the fact that, somehow, all the music from “Inside Llewyn Davis” escaped nomination—“The Moon Song” and/or the song from “Frozen” would seem to be potential favorites for Oscar gold on March 2nd.
“Her” is an odd film about a man who falls in love with his operating system in a futuristic city meant to represent Los Angeles of at least ten years (if not more) in the future. Everyone has an ear bud in his (or her) ear, and no one talks to “real people” any more.
This is foreign territory for me, because I rarely turn on my cell phone and only give the number out to people I don’t want to talk to. I hate the idea of being “tracked” and telling the world, “Just ate at the House of Pies” (as one Facebook friend always does), and I’m not impressed with “apps” at all, [unless I’m trying to avoid a tornado at the time—then, I like them].
But that’s because I’m Old School, of the generation(s) that actually talked to one another, rather than “LOL-ing” our way from Facebook to Twitter to Pinterest to Tumblr to My Space to whatever the next online fad might be.
I do remember that, when I had to begin using a computer (1985) to write a book (29 years ago now) I was alone among my peers in even HAVING a home computer. Nobody else had computers much in the Heartland. Maybe they did in Silicone Valley, but they didn’t play in Peoria—or anywhere within 200 miles.
For one thing, the Internet was in its infancy (Al Gore hadn’t invented it yet, I guess) and all messages flew across the screen as Egyptian hieroglyphics, which required several painstaking steps to convert to regular English. Practically the only online “source” was the Department of Education at One DuPont Circle, and only AOL was a factor in “the olden days” of computer technology. Son Scott (one year older than Spike Jonze/Adam Spiegel) had a distinct advantage over his schoolmates in having a humongous WANG PC in his basement, courtesy of Performance Learning Systems, Inc. which hired me to write a book and insisted I use the WANG PC to do it. (I just love saying WANG PC!)
If it weren’t for Scott’s ministrations, I would never have figured out how to do anything on this behemoth with the gigantic laser printer, and, today, Scott troubleshoots computer programs for steel companies written by his United Kingdom Company, Broner Metals,located in Sheffield, England. Do I feel that his early exposure to computer technology in our basement in East Moline, Illinois, when he was 17 years old, helped him to gain an advantage over his less fortunate peers? Yes, I do. Does he? No idea.
I mention this generation gap only because I think it has a lot to do with how audiences will perceive and react to the film. If you’re past 45 or even older (God forbid, because we’re all supposed to simply keel over quickly after retirement so that our children don’t have to pay even higher money in to the broke Social Security coffers to support our feeble elderly selves) or even older, “Her” won’t resonate as much as it will for the younger generations, which my 26-year-old daughter confirmed. (*Aside: have you ever noticed how women’s magazines never have a decade category past 50? Recently Christie Brinkley at 60 and looking 30 made the cover of “People” magazine, but you rarely see women touted as “attractive”–or even alive–in their 70’s and 80’s. We are all supposed to be good little parents and die off quickly in our 60’s, even if we look like Christie Brinkley!)
If you are my son’s age (and, also, a fan of Weezer and the Beastie Boys and Kanye West and Jackass and all the other groups Spike Jonze has been involved with during his video-making career
) you may find this film wonderful. If you are younger than 45 (Jonze’s age) you may find it spectacular. If you are “mature” (euphemism for “old”) you may just find it a “meh” experience—except for the futuristic sets and the first-rate script.
As an oldie-but-a-goodie, I found it curiously lacking and weird as entertainment. For me, the single line that best summed up the film was one spoken to Joaquin Phoenix’s character, Theodore Twombley, by his blind date, when she says, “You’re a creepy dude.”
No matter what part he inhabits, Joaquin Phoenix IS a “creepy dude.” The Old Man pants pulled up to his armpits [as humorously engraved in my brain-pan forever by favorite comics like Jeff Altman and Martin Short], may echo what I see happening in men’s fashion right now (i.e., they seem to have run out of material, so Adam Levine and his contemporaries are wearing tight, short jackets and tight, short pants) but that just adds to the “meh” moment(s) that the AARP generation will experience while viewing this film.
But the alienation issues addressed by Jonze’s script are happening right now. I could definitely relate to the lines that sum up angst as experienced by many of us. Example, explaining his divorce to friend Amy Adams: “I think I hid myself from her and left her alone in the relationship.” This bit of wisdom may be a personal note on the demise of Jonze/Spiegel’s own marriage to Sofia Coppola. Indeed, many have speculated that the busy on-the-go photographer who rushes off and abandons his lovely wife in a hotel room to be wined and dined by Bill Murray, (played by Giovanni Ribisi in Sofia’s film “Lost in Translation”) represented the problems in Sofia’s own 5-year union to Spike.
Whether that is true or not (Sofia says “not”), the lines in this film seem intensely personal but the emotions, as expressed by Scarlett Johanssen’s tour de force vocal performance, are Words of Wisdom that many of us can relate to in our current 2014 lives. The observations are universal truths. It’s no wonder that the Original Screenplay category is one for which this film has received the nod this year. Here’s another gem: “I sometimes think I’m going to feel all the emotions I’m ever going to feel.” Or how about, “I want to discover myself.”
The speaker of that last line is the OS1 operating system Samantha, who is seeking discovery, because she is, —well, a disembodied voice. But Theodore is so lonely and estranged after his marriage to his childhood sweetheart founders that the comforting voice of a machine becomes human to and for him. Soon, Samantha, the disembodied voice, is his love interest, telling Theodore, “You helped me discover my ability to want.”
Of course, as the script notes, love is a form of socially acceptable insanity and having a machine for a wife means that you don’t have to cope with the reality of actually dealing with anything “real.” That, in fact, is what his ex (played by Mara Rooney) tells Theodore when they meet to sign the final divorce papers. Theodore’s ex had a childhood with demanding parents for whom her best was never quite good enough. Theodore was able to restore some of her self-esteem in the early days of their marriage (Is this hitting too close to home?), but, ultimately, he was not enough to mend her. Theodore constantly reminisces (in flashbacks) of happier times. My favorite glimpse of the couple showed them wearing traffic cones on their heads. I got the feeling that Theodore would have taken his ex back in a heartbeat—especially since he has been reticent to sign the final divorce decree and his dating life is a disaster, complete with a hilarious phone sex service scene.
But, as so often happens IRL (in real life), the path of true love seldom runs smooth(ly).
After the initial “honeymoon phase” of their relationship, complete with phone sex and longing for face-to-face contact (as if anyone in this futuristic society gets THAT anymore!), Theodore even begins to find tiny, niggly little things about his Vocal Dream Girl that annoy him, like the way she takes a breath when speaking. Then he discovers that she sometimes is speaking with more than just one person, when she pledges her love. How many more? A LOT more! A male voice in the audience actually cried out, “Oh, no!” at this betrayal of the flesh-and-blood Theodore by the mechanical Scarlett/Samantha voice. It was an amusing moment. I wasn’t sure if the audience member was being sincere or sarcastic.
Another line that is gold: “You’re always disappointing someone.” Or how about, “All I do is hurt and confuse all those around me.” (How many of us have had THAT feeling a few times in life? Hmmmmm?)
Ultimately, one of the messages that resonated with me the most was, “We’re only here briefly, and, while I’m here, I want to allow myself joy.”
Kudos to Amy Adams who plays Theodore’s good friend in the building, as well as to Chris Pratt (“Parks & Recreation”) and to Hoyt Van Hoytema, who has done a fantastic job of creating a futuristic world with his cinematography, shot in both Shanghai and Los Angeles.
And while we’re praising Scarlett Johanssen’s sexy vocalizations (she replaced Samantha Morton, for reasons that are not quite clear), listen closely for Brian Cox’s easily recognizable voice as Alan Watt, a dead philosopher who has been recreated in the unreal world that Samantha inhabits and may be (one of) Theodore’s rivals for Samantha’s affections.
If you ever saw “Three Kings,” you may know who Spike Jonze/Adam Spiegel is, after all, as he portrayed the dimwitted, bigoted Conrad, as directed by his good friend David O. Russell, [who is, himself, up for an Oscar this year for “American Hustle” (and was similarly nominated for “Silver Linings Playbook” last year).]
Let’s put it this way: if you’re coming off directing “Being John Malkovich,” “Adaptation” and “Where the Wild Things Are,” you have a pretty good streak going, and, while I, personally, will not recommend this film to anyone in my age range as “entertainment,” the thoughts in the script and the message about how we all long to connect to someone and how it is becoming increasingly more difficult to do so with each new technological advancement (I use the term ironically) was interesting and thought-provoking.
And, besides, I got to say WANG PC at least four times in this review, and that, alone, made me smile.