"Her" and "Leave No Trace" are this week's recommendations.
No time for an intro this week — Oh, except, uh, watch the Oscars on Sunday, I guess — so let's get into it.
Netflix, R, 126 minutes
A .gif essay (via GIPHY):
OK, I want to write a word essay, too. There is a feeling I get when watching “Her,” and the closest word to describing is doesn’t exist in English. It’s “fernweh,” which is German for, basically, nostalgia for a place you have never been. (The direct translation is “farsickness,” which is also great.)
I don’t necessarily want to live in the world of “Her”; I want to live in the film itself. Director Spike Jonze* uses colors in such a vivid way, it’s almost part of the storytelling — Joaquin Phoenix’s lovestruck protagonist, Theodore, is rarely not wearing some form of red or pink, so that when he isn’t, you notice, and think about what that symbolizes. And they aren’t dull shades, they pop off the screen. It’s simply gorgeous. The score complements this perfectly, sometimes leaning into melancholy, sometimes aiming to make hearts flutter.
Unlike most of the non-2019 things I write about here, I had no long-held connection to this film. In fact, I watched “Her” for the first time last week. My major hangup was the concept itself: Would I feel sympathy for someone falling in love with an operating system?
Turns out the answer is yes, as long as that OS — named Samantha — is voiced by Scarlett Johansson. She does more with vocal inflections here than some actors do in a lifetime. (This surprised me, because while I have always felt Johansson was a fine actress, she has never blown me away. I was curious why Jonze went with her for such a difficult and important role. I get it now.) Phoenix is also sublime as Theodore, a reserved guy learning to accept love again after getting divorced from his wife, Catherine (Rooney Mara).
Amy Adams is a delight as Theodore’s peppy friend, uh, Amy, and Chris Pratt is also here for some reason. He’s fine, playing someone (Paul) more like his Parks and Recreation character Andy than his recent, macho leading-man characters.
“Her” is a movie about learning to grow as a person without growing apart from the ones you love. About embracing differences. About creating a wordless language that you share with just one special someone. About remembering it’s OK to feel joy. About a hundred other things that would look more at home on a (well-written) Hallmark card or in a letter than in this column, where I’m worried this is all coming off a bit cliche.
Trust me, there’s nothing cliche about “Her.” I’m going to be thinking about this film for a long time.
*At some point, we’re going to have a chat about Spike Jonze’s career, because it is completely bonkers.
“Leave No Trace” (2018)
Amazon Prime Video, R, 110 minutes
Of all the “little” films I saw in 2018, “Leave No Trace” might be my favorite. Though, after talking about “Her,” this is going to be quite the come down, emotionally!
Directed by Debra Granik, the film stars Thomasin McKenzie and Ben Foster as daughter Tom and father Will, who at the film’s beginning live in the wilderness of Portland, Ore.’s Forest Park. Will is a military veteran, and his experiences overseas have left him distrustful of cities and people in general, plus PTSD. He and Tom move from (illegal) makeshift camp to makeshift camp, evading park rangers with an elaborate system designed to help them disappear.
While living off the land, he teaches Tom, 13, to fend for herself, plus how to read and write and other essential skills. She’s doing fine, and she loves her life, albeit the only type of life she’s ever really known.
When Will and Tom are eventually caught — this isn’t a spoiler, there would be no movie otherwise, right? — the rangers give them sympathy. They are brought to a remote community and given the chance to work and live there, in their own house, as long as they do their fair share.
Tom is game to give it a chance. Will is ... less so. The movie’s tension stems from Will’s need to deal with his demons while still doing right by Tom, and giving her the best life possible. It's heart-wrenching to watch him struggle with these two ideas, and her having no choice but to watch him try.
“Leave No Trace” is not always an easy watch, but it’s a rewarding and moving one, and McKenzie is marvelous in a breakout role.
Look, I ... I don’t want to end on a bummer. Can I show you a “Her” .gif again? OK?