🎬 #9 Two Jackasses Tackle Love
I was and still am a big fan of Jackass - the MTV show of the early 00’s. When I was younger and watching it I realised the name on the credits was also the same name on some really interesting films. The name was Spike Jonze. I loved the idea that the guy from Jackass could also be the director of Being John Malkovich. Similarly, a childhood favourite - Jim Carrey, famed for his amazing idiot-ness, also started to appear in more unexpected roles. This week, the two films see how each of them tackle life’s weirdest subject - love.
Happy choosing, happy viewing,
FILM ONE: HER
2013 Dir Spike Jonze
Winner of the Best Original Screenplay award at that year’s Oscars, Jonze’s most heartfelt feels like you’re caught in that wonderful time when you’re in bed and the warm glow of a hazy sun is fanning through the window numbering the dust in the air. The time is summer and everything is fine. At once the moment is cinematic and comforting - but you know in the back of your mind that soon enough the moment will be over and you’ll have to leave it behind. You’ll have to get out of bed and on with your day. And so it is with love in this film. A force that’s fleeting, something to discover and then leave behind, only to rediscover it once more. Like the sun dappling across a city, illuminating one object, one person after another before leaving them behind, in shadow.
Hoyte Van Hoytema, Nolan’s now go to DOP, is behind the camera and lenses the film with effortless warmth, a utopian vista, casually but meticulously unfolding before us. The world is expertly designed by K.K. Barrett, constructed by flawlessly blending LA and Shanghai, this is very much a near future world in which you’d want to live. Like a future version of an apartment on The Modern House, it’s the perfect embodiment of that apt but inadequate word ‘aspirational.’ Joachim Phoenix delivers another great performance - someone wounded but openly and charmingly naive as we watch him fall in love with his operating system voiced by Scarlett Johansson. The performances, the cinematography, the production design, and the music by Arcade Fire melt together, orchestrated perfectly by Jonze. At this stage in his career he makes direction feel easy, even though it obviously isn't. His opus surely is this soaring tale of unconventional love. I always feel like Jonze is a truly ‘creative’ director - evidenced by his simultaneous roles as co-creator of Jackass, Creative Director of Vice and Oscar winning screenwriter. Someone who utilises unusual elements and combinations of artists, who approaches stories with freshness. All with the kind of freeflow imagination you might expect to find in a recording studio - or something you might see in a cool Vogue editorial piece, or commercial or music video. But all built on the foundations of a story that addresses important universal themes. This is just a lovely film that fills you with hope. Especially as we come out of winter, and see the first dapples of spring light.
TL;DR why should I spend 2 hrs 6 minutes of my precious life watching this? Jonze holds our hand on a journey through a hazy near future heartfelt breezy relationship film as Phoenix sells us on his deep, real love for an A.I. operating system in an audacious story that tells us that love doesn’t depend on what you can see.
*Available on Netflix*
Fact: Samantha Morton was originally the voice of Samantha - the name of the A.I. love interest. Bonus: Hoyte Van Hoytema, the director of photography can be seen in a brief cameo during a party scene.
FILM TWO: ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND
2004 Dir Michel Gondry
Michel Gondry and Charlie Kauffman’s best film - is also Jim Carrey’s most real and honest, which is interesting because it’s a ‘weird’ high concept romance. He’s here to deliver pathos with only flourishes of eccentricity popping up when the story requires it. He helps ground and navigate the path that Gondry and Kauffman have set out in front of us. Set in the present but with the technology available to wipe something or someone from you memory - this is the means by which the relationship at the centre of the film unfolds. The story charts the beginning and end, then the beginning again of a relationship. With Kate Winslet playing ‘Clementine’ opposite Carrey in an, at the time, against type character. She’s the brightest, most alive point in the frame at any one time in the opening 15 minutes. Like Her, there is a pragmatic realism to Gondry’s handling of the story and the world. Carefully establishing the quiet, normal existence of Carrey’s Joel. It’s only when we get into the memory deletion that Gondry’s visual imagination fully ramps up. Even though we get into a more science fiction based premise - everything remains grounded and the ups and downs and the staged memories through which we see the relationship feel all too painfully real.
To aid the realism, Gondry deployed practical almost theatrical effects, rather than computer generated visual effects, when he could. With the sense of distance and ‘deletion’ achieved through stringing up sheets of opaque polythene between actors so that Carrey’s character remains in sharp focus while the rest of the frame sharply drops off in a blur. I’ve seen the film a lot and recently rewatched it. I was amazed at the details I had missed. For instance, when the characters are in a childhood memory, they’re hiding from the rain under a corrugated plastic roof - the memory blends with another of baby Joel hiding under the kitchen table, and as they move between them, we realise that the table is now made from the same corrugated material as the roof. This is a world where memory is totally malleable, blending, twisting and easily lost.
Gondry and Kaufman compliment each other perfectly, Gondry reigning in Kaufman and Kaufman lending some traditional but unconventional structure to Gondry. That is in itself a wonderful demonstration of a relationship that works. Throughout the film we sadly begin to realise that when you try to get rid of someone, you take other memories with them, and even the good stuff is gone. This is just one example of a film made up of details, hundred and thousands of them - painting in the memory of a relationship. These feel genuine to us - because the bigger moments don’t tend to stick out, it’s the little things, the day to day silly things that remain in your mind - that build up into something called love. Something we know has the potential to fade or transform into hate, but we still try again, over and over. To me this is the film that captures all these great and not so great aspects with incredible imagination and performances that are honest and charming.
TL;DR why should I spend 1 hr 48 minutes of my precious life watching this? Gondry crafts a fantastically real journey into a memory of a relationship that’s crumbling all around us, while the cast and wider supporting crew prop up the premise wonderfully with real heart while Beck makes us all feel a bit sad and Mark Ruffalo dances in his underpants.
*Available on Netflix*
Fact: Charlie Kauffman, the film’s writer, also wrote Being John Malkovich, which was Spike Jonze’s feature debut.