Archive for the Romance Category

The Immigrant

Posted in Drama, Romance with tags on June 11, 2014 by Mark Hobin

The Immigrant photo starrating-4stars.jpgIt’s 1921. Ewa Cybulski (Marion Cotillard) and her sister Magda (Angela Sarafyan) sail to New York from their native Poland. They’re escaping their bleak homeland in search of a fresh start. Unfortunately Magda is quarantined at Ellis Island because of suspected lung disease. Meanwhile Ewa is almost deported due to an “incident” on the boat ride over. Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix) notices her ability to speak English and bribes an officer to let her go. Bruno runs a burlesque show and he hires Ewa to do the sewing. From that point on, their lives intertwine and they will never be the same. Bruno also manages a side business where he arranges, shall we say, appointments with the female performers in the show. Orlando (Jeremy Renner), a magician who performs at the burlesque house, becomes infatuated with Ewa. Could he be her knight in shining armor? But he also makes waves. This triggers a dark jealous streak in Bruno whose fondness for Ewa has grown over time.

Director James Gray (The Yards, We Own the Night) has such a way with these character based dramas. The Immigrant is another fine example. The screenplay details the wants and needs of dissimilar people at odds with one another. James Gray and co-writer Ric Menello previously worked together in 2008 on Two Lovers. The Immigrant is the saga of what three disparate people must do in order to survive. The drama is so affecting. Ewa is that most exquisite of personalities. Seemingly plain and unkempt but with genuine allure, both physically and emotionally. Her beauty shines through. She needs to raise money to get her sister out of the infirmary on Ellis Island. It isn’t long before she succumbs to doing things she’d rather not do. The script reflects upon her moral struggle. How far is she willing to compromise her virtue in exchange for a noble goal? The idea is handled in a fascinating yet respectful way.

Marion Cotillard portrays such sincere yearning. If she is the heart of The Immigrant then Joaquin Phoenix is the soul. In their 4th picture together Director James Gray extracts another brilliant performance from his frequent collaborator. Phoenix is riveting as the morally troublesome Bruno. His behavior includes distasteful business ventures. Yet there is a positive nuance to this mortal that gently persuades the audience to forgive him. His elemental desire to do the best thing for Ewa underlies a palpable tragedy. Orlando the Magician (Jeremy Renner) complicates matters for him considerably. They both pursue Ewa.

The Immigrant is a beautifully realized period film that presents a knotty tangle of ethical decisions. It’s rather understated and probably why director James Gray’s work charms critics over mainstream audiences. The three protagonists are fully realized creations that captivate. What superficially appears like a love triangle is actually much deeper and morally complex. Gray has a talent for extracting raw emotion. Additionally, the production has a nice feel for time and place. Costumes and cinematography superbly add to the historical detail. The filmmaker grew up in New York City and it’s a place he returns to again and again in his movies. This is a story that upholds the promise of America, but doesn’t deny the cold harsh reality.


The Fault in Our Stars

Posted in Drama, Romance with tags on June 8, 2014 by Mark Hobin

The Fault in Our Stars photo starrating-4stars.jpgDespite her protestations, a sixteen-year-old girl is forced to attend a support group. Hazel suffers from stage IV thyroid cancer and her parents have determined she is depressed. That emotion would most certainly be a reasonable one, but melancholy would probably be a more apt description of her state of mind. One day seventeen-year-old Augustus Waters walks into the group. He used to play basketball before he was fitted for a prosthetic leg. Though he is a bone cancer survivor, he is merely there to encourage his friend Isaac (Nat Wolff).

In support group Gus worries about “oblivion” – that is not being remembered – after he has passed on. Hazel is an acerbic pragmatist.  She feels his fear is unimportant and tells him to get over it. Their little exchange is cute and it lights the spark for a friendship. Possibly more. While some advancements in the narrative can be predicted, others are rather unexpected. For example, they each recommend their favorite book to one another. Her chosen novel leads to an encounter with its reclusive author (Willem Dafoe). It is just one of several fascinating developments.

On the surface, one might view The Fault in Our Stars as just another chronicle of star-crossed lovers. The thought-provoking title was inspired from a line in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Cassius says to Brutus: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” Here the title has apparently the exact opposite meaning, that our stars, or destiny, can be cruel through no fault of our own. While the drama concerns the ups and downs of suffering from an illness, it actually has a much more philosophical appeal as a tale that captures the awkwardness of adolescence.

John Green’s 2012 teen lit best seller The Fault in Our Stars is faithfully adapted by Scott Eric Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. They are the talented writing team behind young adult successes (500) Days of Summer and The Spectacular Now. Fault is another shining example of the genre. The saga is ambitious for the depth of feeling explored within their relationship. The screenwriters have a nice facility for extracting genuine emotion that doesn’t ever seem forced or overwrought. Gus and Hazel‘s exchanges are funny, intelligent, and insightful. But what truly separates an account that tackles a subject as inherently manipulative as cancer, is the sincerity of the performances.

Shailene Woodley (Hazel) and Ansel Elgort (Gus) are an extraordinary team. At times Augustus seems too good to be true. “Why are you looking at me like that?” Hazel asks. Augustus half smiles “Because you’re beautiful. I enjoy looking at beautiful people.” Cue the biggest contented “Aw!” from my mostly female audience. To be fair, that corny dialogue is taken directly from the book. Gus pontificates in soliloquies. His undeniable charisma sometimes drifts into ersatz charm. Occasionally the cuteness quotient beaks the scale and the preciousness seems like it might derail the production. It never does though. The two remain an engaging pair. Their effortless rapport details passion, doubt, and insecurity. The way their relationship unfolds is particularly affecting. The couple exudes a substantial amount of chemistry together that is, pardon the pun, “faultless”. It is organic and natural. Their considerable heart is a rarity these days. That is what separates this from other romantic dramas of the past. Equally touching as the bond between Jenny and Oliver from Love Story. Perhaps even more so. I always felt Jenny was a bit caustic for my tastes anyway. Hazel and Gus are a memorable twosome. The Fault in Our Stars is a love story for the ages.


The Lunchbox

Posted in Drama, Romance with tags on May 28, 2014 by Mark Hobin

The Lunchbox photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgA lonely housewife lovingly cooks a spectacular lunch for her husband at work. Regrettably he has lost interest in her and her attempt is meant to rekindle a spark. The feast is accidentally delivered to an accountant who regularly has his order made by a local restaurant. After her husband comes home, he offers no reaction to the delectable lunch and she realizes he never even received the meal that she prepared. However she’s intrigued that the metal tins have come back completely empty. This inspires a correspondence with the stranger via messages passed back and forth in the containers.

The Lunchbox is dependable comfort food that still manages to be a little unconventional. Our tale takes place in Mumbai, India.  We’re introduced to their historically reliable delivery system where a network of 5,000 dabbawalas deliver lunches to office workers so they can eat a home cooked meal.  The picturesque culture adds a uniqueness to the story at hand.  Actor Irrfan Khan (The Amazing Spider-Man, Life of Pi) is Saajan, a withdrawn widower and actress Nimrat Kaur is Ila, the lonesome woman with whom he converses through notes. They’re two yearning souls and they engage our emotions. In this age of social networking and email, the quaint reliance on handwritten notes is rather poetic.  Their interaction touches the heart. The emotion feels fresh and innovative despite the fact that the narrative concept really isn’t. This subject has been done before. Most famously with The Shop Around the Corner which in turn was the basis for You’ve Got Mail.   It’s worth mentioning the supporting players as well. Actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Shaikh, his replacement at work that Saajan must train. Shaikh’s passion for learning is infectious. There’s also Ila’s hilarious friendship with her never seen, but loudly heard upstairs neighbor.  Ila affectionately calls the woman “Auntie” and her advice is good as gold.

For a movie that relies heavily on the seductive qualities of food, The Lunchbox rarely dwells on the culinary delights prepared. It’s hard not to think the filmmakers missed a golden opportunity to seduce the audience with the wonders of Indian cuisine. After all, in this parable food speaks louder than words ever could. What we do get is a nice romance that unfolds in a very delicate and deliberate manner. Ila is melancholy but radiant. Saajan is a stoic sourpuss. Both mature as a result of knowing each other. There’s real drama in their interaction. At times it’s so subtle and precious, we have to fill in the blanks as to what people are feeling. This translates into what they ultimately do. I won’t spoil the conclusion, but it’s as if the screenwriters think a tidy resolution is too predictable. Still, there’s a lot to love, particularly the sensitive relationship that evolves among the principals. It’s just that the desultory ending is a serious letdown after such a promising buildup. I found it frustratingly unsatisfying. The finish left me hungry for more.


Only Lovers Left Alive

Posted in Drama, Romance with tags on April 28, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Only Lovers Left Alive photo starrating-3stars.jpgFirstly, if you’re already an aficionado of director Jim Jarmusch, then stop reading and just go see Only Lovers Left Alive right now. He has been a filmmaking pioneer in American cinema. His trippy movies have always been a bit of an acquired taste but there is no denying that Stranger Than Paradise (1984), Down By Law (1986) and Mystery Train (1989) were influential movies that shaped the independent film movement of the 1980s. The much more accessible Broken Flowers (2005) is the closest thing he’s ever had to a hit, but he’s never really been about that anyway. The Limits of Control (2009), his most recent work until now, was his least well received. Only Lovers Left Alive is a return to form and should be crack to anyone who is a fan of the auteur’s work.

Adam is a comparatively young 500 year old vampire musician who composes music, looks like a rock star and lounges around looking fabulous. Tilda Swinton is his spouse. A brilliant vampire scholar with pale skin, wears silk scarves and sports a shock of white hair that look like dreadlocks. She is a somewhat more mature 3,000 years old. Together they lament the presence of zombies, their pejorative for normal humans. Heavily populated LA is “zombie central” which is probably why they hang out in an abandoned old shell of city like Detroit. These two are a rather sensitive pair getting all their high quality blood from sources that don’t involve killing humans. He from a hematologist played by Jeffrey Wright at a local blood bank and she from her friend Christopher Marlow (John Hurt). Yes the same English dramatist who was a peer of Shakespeare (and apparently not a friend). Adam and Eve are a tormented two that love art, music and all the correct things that hipsters are supposed to like. That includes classic R&B records on vinyl and reading manuscripts in book form.  Oh and they sip their superior hemoglobin like sherry from cut glass crystal stemware.

Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton make for a striking pair. As the principal duo they have sort of an androgynous charisma that almost sells the picture on sheer mood. They’re detached, emotionally aloof and too-cool-for-you. Just the look of them standing in a dark corner of a Detroit music club with sunglasses is kind of amusing. For me the whole production gets a real shot in the arm when Eve’s undisciplined sister shows up. As played by Mia Wasikowska she is a young free spirit, slightly goofy and wears polka-dot leggings. She’s got personality to spare and still finds humans attractive, particularly to boys her own age in the music industry (Anton Yelchin). That proves to be a bit of a problem later. Once her story arc is over, she leaves and it’s back to moping around and feeling depressed. Adam and Eve represent the rare intellectual with an unquenchable passion for the categories of music, literature and science that hipsters find admirable. You see the “only lovers” in the title are for the beauty of art not sex. They’re tortured individuals. If you share Adam and Eve’s point of view, this film will be catnip to your sensibilities. It’s beautifully written and has an evocative mood. But as they repeatedly bemoan the lack of culture in contemporary society their sulking personalities dangerously straddle the line between suffering…and insufferable.


About Last Night

Posted in Comedy, Romance with tags on February 16, 2014 by Mark Hobin

About Last Night photo starrating-3stars.jpgDavid Mamet’s 1974 play “Sexual Perversity in Chicago” was sanitized into a 1986 brat pack romance starring Rob Lowe and Demi Moore when they were in their early 20s. It was a moderate hit with audiences but David Mamet (and the critics) hated it. Flash forward nearly 3 decades later and the comedy about the divide between men and women has been remade. Director Steve Pink’s update is familiar stuff to anyone who has ever seen at least one romantic comedy in their life. He recycles timeworn ideas but now the location is Los Angeles. The story charts the relationship of two wildly different African-American couples who also happen to be friends. The principals skew closer to the age of 40 this time around. One is genuinely into long term commitment, the other craves instant gratification.  The material is more sexually explicit, but it‘s all because of frank repartee. It’s verbally raunchy, but not graphically so.

The real stars of About Last Night are the sidekicks Bernie and Joan, portrayed by Kevin Hart and Regina Hall. This is the 6th film the two have appeared in together, 7 if you count the upcoming Think Like a Man Too. However this is the first instance where they have been a couple. Note to Hollywood: continue pairing these two up as such.  Kevin Hart is a motor-mouthed comedian with enough energy for 5 romantic comedies. Regina Hall is his sassy match. She seems happier in an argument than at peace. Their characters are in it for the physical act and not about the commitment. They’re lewd, crude and yes hilariously over the top. They stand in stark contrast to actors Michael Ealy and Joy Bryant who play the reticent Danny and Debbie that fall deeply in love. Then they move in together. They’re shy types that develop a sweet intimacy, but they can be sensual too. On one occasion Debbie spends the evening making dinner. In one fell swoop, Danny knocks it all to the floor so they can have sex on the table. I couldn’t help thinking, you just ruined a lot of good food, to say nothing of her time and effort. No mention is made of that. Instead they squabble over things like getting a puppy.  <yawn> On New Year’s Eve, they actually complain about being boring. Only the dullest couple would fight over such a thing.

The narrative is frenzied and haphazard. Danny and Debbie’s relationship goes through unpredictable fluctuations. Danny progresses from nice guy to jerk on New Years Eve. Danny’s anger with staying at home is perplexing because up until that point he had always enjoyed a quiet evening with his girl. Debbie makes another delicious meal for Danny. Then Bernie calls him and they all end up going out instead. More wasted food. They meet up at the club and Danny starts pounding one drink after another at the bar. Who is THIS guy? Bernie and Joan’s behavior doesn’t make a lot of sense either. Joan is constantly getting angry at the drop of a hat, sometimes for reasons that are completely random and unpredicatble.

About Last Night concerns the sexual politics of two couples. The sweet one wants to commit following a one-night stand. The other passionately volatile, are like two moths drawn to a flame. The pace is frantic. The frenetic editing can go from screwball to headache in seconds. One minute of conversation between two people talking is a series of 30 jump cuts back-and-forth between two faces. Relax! It’s OK to linger on a shot for more than 2 seconds.  Director Steve Pink’s movie bears little resemblance to David Mamet’s play or dialogue, but that doesn‘t mean this isn‘t an improvement to the 1986 adaptation. Argumentative Bernie and Joan are fun to watch. Their shouted dialogue is delivered machine gun style at each other in rapid succession without breath. They interact in hilarious fashion and their discussions descend into bickering, often suddenly without warning. They quarrel, often for no good reason other than to provide laughs. They raise this from a clichéd chronicle to an enjoyable romp.

Labor Day

Posted in Drama, Romance with tags on February 2, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Labor Day photo starrating-2stars.jpgBack in 2007 Chronicle Books published a paperback entitled Porn for Women. Despite the raunchy sounding title, it was in fact a tongue-in-cheek, PG-rated photo book. The humorous publication featured clean-cut guys washing dishes, doing the laundry, and saying things like “Let me make you some tea and we can talk about it.” Labor Day is kind of pitched to the same audience except that it’s no joke.  It might have been rewritten and worked as a parody, but as a serious romance, it’s just awful. The most stilted fantasy aimed at lonely women since Nights in Rodanthe.

The drama stars Kate Winslet as Adele. Apparently she’s suffering from depression after the breakup of her marriage. She’s extremely forlorn, although her son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) does his best to comfort her. He is sweetness personified even giving her a coupon book offering to do all the chores around the house. I will say that his coming-of-age character makes the most sense. The young actor is quite good. Anyway, while shopping in a discount store one day, the twosome are accosted by Frank (Josh Brolin), an escaped convict with a bleeding wound on his stomach. He forces the two to take him to their home so he can hide out for awhile.

What happens next is too illogical for words. Within seconds of entering the house Adele is making Frank coffee. “Isn’t it against the law to hide a fugitive?“ her son asks.  So Frank gently ties her to a chair to look as if she has been forced contrary to her will. For some reason, he spares the son. Henry watches on nervously. Then Frank whips up his famous chili and spoon-feeds it to Adele, blowing on each bite so it doesn‘t burn her tongue. As the weekend progresses, manly Frank replaces the oil on her car, changes the filter on the furnace, washes and waxes the kitchen floor and even helps her son understand what a ratchet wrench is and how to throw a baseball. Are you kidding me? However the most ridiculous sequence is an extended cooking demonstration in which Frank teaches mother and son how to bake the perfect peach pie. Each brand name ingredient lovingly framed at camera level ostensibly so the audience can go buy the correct ingredients when they make the recipe at home. Adele mixes the peaches with her hands. Then Frank also puts his hands in the mixture and the two affectionately caress one another. First I thought of the pottery scene in Ghost. Then I rolled my eyes so far back I thought I saw my brain.

The plot is simplistic in the extreme. Lonely divorcée falls in love with an escaped prisoner. He’s pretty benign, but the ominous music misleads the viewer into believing something very evil is imminent. I suppose falling for a murderer isn’t ideal. But then there are several groan-inducing flashbacks that awkwardly persuade us to sympathize with Frank in the most horrendously manipulative way possible. Thank You for Smoking, Juno, Up in the Air, Young Adult: I’ve adored every single one of Jason Reitman’s other films. I am flabbergasted this was helmed by the same director. Furthermore, he adapted Joyce Maynard’s novel himself. Regardless of how sappy the source material is, he must accept blame for this script. I kept thinking that at some point in the development of this story there would be a twist or surprise that would explain why such a mentally troubled woman would be so comfortable with a convicted felon in the house. No such luck.

The Invisible Woman

Posted in Biography, Drama, Romance with tags on January 29, 2014 by Mark Hobin

The Invisible Woman photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgBiographical romance spotlights Charles Dickens and his clandestine relationship with English actress Ellen Ternan, or Nelly. By 1857 Charles Dickens had been married to his wife Catherine for over twenty years. They had 10 children together. Dickens meets Nelly, a struggling young actress who is performing in one of his plays, The Frozen Deep. He is 45, she is 18. Immediately taken with the girl, he ever so delicately pursues her in the most gradual way possible. Slow, methodically plotted story truly emphasizes the great lengths that Dickens took to tread lightly in his advances toward the woman. Based on Claire Tomalin’s book of the same name, this handsomely mounted costume drama is actor Ralph Fiennes directorial follow-up to Coriolanus.

In essence the film is about lust. But it‘s presented in the most carefully articulated way so as not to disturb societal conventions. There aren’t obvious displays of tremendous passion. Dickens’ pursuit of Nelly progresses through glances and things not said, but understood. Despite his best efforts, his attraction to the young woman does not go unnoticed by her mother portrayed by Kristin Scott Thomas. Mrs. Frances Ternan regards his intentions with a mixture of cautious uncertainty.  Frances is a small role but the inspired casting choice grants Thomas the opportunity to share the screen with the actor with whom she famously co-starred in 1996’s The English Patient.

For half the movie Nelly and Charles refrain from physically acting upon their desires. She initially rebuffs his advances. At a key juncture, Dickens brings Nelly to friend and author Wilkie Collins’ (Tom Hollander) home, where Collins’ lives in an openly unmarried affair with his mistress Caroline (Michelle Fairley). Nelly is visibly appalled that Dickens would take the liberty to expose her to it. They are clearly falling for each other, however, as their slowly growing emotions are perceptible. They keep their feelings hidden from the public sans overt demonstrations of their love. This isn’t the type of love affair we’re used to seeing, but that is what makes this production unique.

Dickens is a charismatic presence, particularly in Ralph Fiennes’ hands. In public he commands attention. He captivates a crowd in town who swarm around him like a rock star. Privately however, Dickens was surprisingly insecure and shy. Felicity Jones isn’t as acclaimed as her co-star, but she superbly proves herself every bit his match in the title role. She exhibits a wide eyed innocence that gives way to moral turmoil. Together the couple are static vessels externally hiding powerful emotion kept tightly within. The much lauded novelist, comes up decidedly short as a husband. Joanna Scanlan is quite memorable as Dickens’ wife Catherine. She beautifully conveys the heartbreaking realization of her husband’s infidelity in one devastating scene. The visit she pays the ingénue is mortifying. Catherine’s subsequent declaration to Nelly is heartbreakingly pragmatic.

The Invisible Woman details a specific period of a particular time. The 13 year relationship between Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens is not just a tale of love but of pain and regret as well. Occasionally the focus on this exclusive detail of the author’s life doesn’t always sustain the narrative. But more often than not, the production captures an era when traditional moral attitudes were held dear. Outwardly, Dickens was the passionate defender of home and family. But secretly his heart belonged to another . Even after separating from his wife, he continued to keep his association with Nelly a secret for fear of damaging her reputation. There were rumors, but he consistently maintained in public that Nelly was nothing less than a chaste woman. This endured for the rest of his life until 1870 when he died. These conventions seem archaic to modern audiences, but those social mores made this couple’s guarded behavior necessary. Breaking implied codes of decency would condemn a woman’s standing in the community. The threat forced people at least to maintain the appearance of adhering to accepted societal customs. I can understand why someone wouldn’t appreciate the film’s deliberate pace but that is precisely what I loved about it.

The Princess Bride

Posted in Adventure, Comedy, Family, Romance with tags on January 15, 2014 by Mark Hobin

The Princess Bride photo starrating-5stars.jpgCinemark theaters’ Classic Series has become an easy way for people to see older films on the big screen. I recently watched 1987’s The Princess Bride. Rob Reiner’s glorious comedy adventure is a delightful tribute to vintage fairy tales of old. Almost 30 years later and the picture has lost none of its luster.

The production captures lightning in a bottle with each actor arguably giving the most memorable performance of their film careers. Mandy Patinkin deserves a lot of credit for his noble Spaniard out to avenge the death of his father. His famous oath: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” is the stuff of movie legend. Wallace Shawn is particularly funny as a delusional criminal genius. Joining the two is André the Giant perfectly cast as, what else, their giant friend Fezzik. The three of them form a wandering outlaw trio with camaraderie to spare. Cary Elwes and Robin Wright perfectly embody the quintessential romantic duo. Billy Crystal and Carol Kane are amusing as a forest dwelling troll doctor and his wife. “Have fun stormin’ da castle.”  Even Peter Falk as Grandpa who narrates and Fred Savage as his grandson provide a wonderful framing device through which the story is told. In this way, developments are halted at opportune times where jokes can be inserted for comic effect.

What makes The Princess Bride so enjoyable is Rob Reiner’s ability to send-up traditional fables without descending into acerbity. Novelist and screenwriter William Goldman brilliantly adapts his own 1973 novel of the same name. It gently pokes fun at the sentimentality of fairy tales while still genuinely capitalizing on their innocence. There’s a modern sensibility but it never threatens to contaminate the sincerity of the proceedings. Mandy Patinkin’s declaration is the most well known, but iconic dialogue abounds. “Inconceivable!” The Cliffs of Insanity, the Pit of Despair, the Fire Swamp where the Rodents of Unusual Size (R.O.U.S.) dwell – each location highlights another hilarious set piece. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll cheer, you’ll thrill to every recognizable line and action spectacle. Its one lone Oscar nomination for Best Original Song is a complete headscratcher today. Although it wasn’t a huge hit in its day ($61.9 million in today’s dollars), the film has since gone on to achieve classic status. I’ll choose long term longevity to instant gratification any day. “As you wish.”


Posted in Comedy, Drama, Romance with tags on December 21, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Her photo starrating-4andahalfstars.jpgHer is the work of a perceptive individual. Spike Jonze has 4 films in his directorial repertoire and he has managed to make a statement with each one. Her is perhaps his most accomplished one yet. He not only directs, but for the first time, he is working from a screenplay that he has solely written himself. With all due respect to the cleverness of past collaborator Charlie Kauffman, Jonze should continue to do this. The writing is brilliant.

The setting is Los Angeles. The time is the near future. Joaquin Phoenix is Theodore Twombly. He works for a company called, a firm in the business of doing just that, providing moving hand written correspondence for other people. It’s kind of like Hallmark, but to the 10th power. He’s a scribe that’s very good at his job. There’s an irony however. His own existence is far from emotionally perfect. Recently split from his wife (Rooney Mara), he is a broken man. Then one day he purchases some new software for his computer. It’s a highly intuitive, self aware, disembodied voice, “the first artificially intelligent operating system“ that makes today‘s technology seem antiquated by comparison. Initially she begins by merely organizing his emails, but her personality is more than organizational. He has many conversations with her. His dependence deepens.

Her is a curious vision of the world to come, but it’s still refreshingly restrained. The movie should age well. Jonze uses background shots of Shanghai to represent a Los Angeles of the future. The cinematography is soothing blue and grey pastels often disrupted by the color of Phoenix‘s shirt. I liked the high-waisted beltless pants. It’s suitably familiar to be recognizable, but noticeably different to clearly not be of this time. Yet the majority of the action takes place in sterile, serene rooms where people simply converse. This gives the bustling metropolis of LA a peaceful, Zen-like gloss on the surroundings. There is a minor nagging contention that the production is based on nothing more than different rooms with a man talking to a computer. But the elementary scene construction generates undeniable results. it’s a deceptively simple conceit that yields an emotional powerhouse.

As the voice of the OS, Scarlett Johansson is sensitive, yearning and passionate. Her name is Samantha. Her intonations mimic the sound and speech patterns of a human voice, but without the complications that a living human brings. The obvious analogue would be Siri, the personal assistant application for Apple’s iOS. Where the language interface of Siri is a rudimentary version of a talking human, Samantha is an almost sentient entity. This isn’t the sound of a computer, but of an advanced individual with the desire to please. The drama is made up of their conversations. She encourages him to seize life both professionally and romantically. They have an easy familiarity with each other right from the start, Her influence starts to have a profound effect. As their interactions grow more thoughtful, their bond becomes increasingly intimate. They provide a cogent dissertation on the nature of relationships in this ever-evolving digital age. This is the giddy delight of two people getting to know one another.

Her is Spike Jonze’s magnum opus on love. He is gently dissecting our modern computer era. With its heavy reliance on cell phones and the Internet, his vision of the future is just enough like our own to be instantly relatable. But is an attachment to a voice too far fetched? Of course it isn’t really the voice, it’s the fully formed personality that we connect with. As the operating system, Scarlett Johansson expresses herself with a joy and wonder that is positively captivating. The doubt with which people used to regard relationships between people who met online, courts a gradually eroding skepticism. Her illustrates the plausibility for someone to fall in love with a person they’ve never met, better than any work of fiction I’ve ever seen. The script analyzes what constitutes love and makes the case that a passionate connection doesn’t even require a physical body. It relies on making an emotional bond with a person on a spiritual level. What sounds like science fiction on paper, is actually one of the most deeply felt romances of 2013.

Blue Is the Warmest Color

Posted in Drama, Foreign, Romance with tags on December 11, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Blue Is the Warmest Color photo starrating-4stars.jpgAdèle is a girl in secondary school. She yearns for romance, but her desires are complicated by conflicting feelings. Egged on by the inane chatter of her high school friends, Adèle goes out with a good looking schoolboy who is attracted to her. On the way to their date, she spies a young mysterious blue haired woman with her arms around another girl. They lock glances. Adèle and Thomas date briefly and although he is taken with her, she breaks up with him. Adèle later meets Emma, the woman she spied earlier. They embark on a relationship.

Blue Is the Warmest Color was originally titled The Life of Adèle – Chapters 1 & 2. Somehow that seems more appropriate.  At 3 hours, the movie is like two halves: the original movie and then its sequel pushed together to form two episodes in the life. The first half is what causes two people to fall in love. The second, is what drives them apart. Throughout it all, emotions run the gamut from joy and excitement to melancholia and pain. The drama is such a fully realized portrait, that even after the extreme length, you still might be curious what’s next for Adèle. What happens to her in Chapter 3?

At the film’s heart are two stunning performances. Léa Seydoux is Emma. The French actress is recognized for both French (Farewell, My Queen) and American (Inglorious Basterds, Robin Hood, Midnight in Paris) productions alike. Adèle is played with uncompromising credibility by newcomer Adèle Exarchopoulos. As the star, she anchors the drama with her work. Since she shares the same name as her character and this is her first major role, I am impulsively tempted to conclude she is merely playing herself. Yet even that would require the skills of a great thespian given what she does here. She presents a teenager that is nearly flawless in its honesty. The achievement never translates as acting. She just is.

Director Abdellatif Kechiche allows scenarios to play far beyond a normal duration. In most cases, this is a good thing because it heightens the experience that this is reality. The interactions drift and percolate like authentic dialogue. They deceptively feel improvised because of their utter veracity. Yet the script is too focused to truly believe that. They highlight the process of learning about someone and slowly getting to understand them. As a whole the picture attempts to portray every facet of a relationship. The film has most famously drawn publicity for its lovemaking scenes. A sequence in and of itself can shock sensibilities. Their desire culminates in extended scenes of intimacy that do push accepted boundaries. This is an unedited, unembarrassed and sensual expression. Admittedly, the director does a disservice at making them so graphic. Their explicitness tends to overshadow the sensitivity of the rest of the narrative which depicts their association with a much tender approach.

Blue Is the Warmest Color was awarded the Palme d’Or at Cannes, its highest honor. For the first time ever the prize was also officially bestowed to two actors as well: Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux. That just shows how intrinsic they are to the success of the picture. It presents a relationship in unexpurgated detail – an unbridled 3 hours. Normally that would be a barrier in engaging the attention, but the plot never seems dull. Director Abdellatif Kechiche lets a scene gradually unfold. The script has a natural rhythm. The conversations take their time in the way genuine people would interact with long pauses and the awkwardness of dialogue that isn’t perfected. That permits a candor that is determined in being explicit with feeling. This has courted controversy for its sexual depictions. It could be argued that they are a physical manifestation of the intimacy we’ve already seen on an intellectual level. The director has nevertheless made a dubious choice which is ultimately a misstep. Evaluated as an overall account, however, those minutes constitute a very small part. Most of the story has a delicate beauty of real life and raw emotion that has rarely been presented so honestly.


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