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Choke Me With The Dead Cat! Spike Jonze and HER #NYFF Closing Night Film

There are ways in which this film works and ways, with its approach to romance, in which it falls apart.

The first third of the movie is absorbing and satisfying in its approach to the dilemma of loneliness in a beautiful world.

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The first seconds reveal a strong and unique color and architectural scheme designed by director Spike Jonze and his team. There is not a single ugly shot in this movie.

But should a movie about reclaiming your romantic soul have such a dry inert ending? Probably not.

Should it embody such quirky offbeat and, at times, laugh out loud humor? Absolutely and it does.

But buried in here is a melancholy romance too shy to break out of its shell as a thesis on technology.

Buried within the conceit of a romance is the supposition that falling in love with a seemingly sentient operating system would be accepted as commonplace.  About as likely as the fashion notion that men would eschew belts and wear pants way higher than their waistlines. ( I will assume this is not  a commentary/ backlash of young teens without belts wearing pants way below their waistlines. Let’s hope.)

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Joaquim Phoenix virtually does a one man show and acquits himself quite nicely as writer #612 of a firm that composes touching letters for third parties too busy to express their emotions to loved ones. Separated nine months ago from wife Rooney Mara and delaying the finalization of divorce papers, Joaquim, lonely and melancholy, reluctantly accepts inadvertently twisted blind dates arranged by friends, attempts the digital phone chat of inadvertently twisted phone sex and plays interactive holographic wall size video games too much fun and overtly twisted  to completely ignore. Installing the world’s sentient operating system introduces a reassuring open female voice into his life, a voice with an innocent and growing personality that grows from his repeated interactions and then beyond it.

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HER asks us to accept as a given that the sentient systems would all evolve to espouse and prefer existentialism, that their emotional growth would flow so rapidly that they would prefer to abandon it. Technology would prefer to be technology without the messy interpersonal stuff.  Just as the humans become aware that they prefer to explore the closeted emotions that technology has encouraged to flower.

The problem with the last third is that all the humor that informed a good part of the film has been pushed away in a naked bid to understand romance. And romance without humor or playfulness becomes as arid and desperate as the final scenes. Perhaps the film is open-ended and the audience is expected to bring their own emotions and interpretations to many scenes… Your mileage may vary. A girl seated next to me cried during the rooftop scene. I expected them to jump.

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It is probably unfair, but I can’t help but feeling that injecting the lilting playful voice of Scarlett Johansson and the excellent casting of Rooney Mara as the ex-wife turns this into a commentary of Jonze and his former marriage much as Sofia Coppola’s use of Scarlett in LOST IN TRANSLATION not so obliquely commented on Jonze in their marriage. Mara’s sharp trenchant comment to a waitress on Phoenix was so spot on and succinct that it must have come from Jonze’s own awareness and self criticism. I hope he brings more of that to his next film, because that was wonderful.

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October 13, 2013 - Posted by | CULTURE, FILM | , , , , , , , ,

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