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Woody Allen seems like the sort of guy who's easily flustered. Huge claim, I know. But his nebbishy demeanor and all-night study-cram verbal temperament strikes me as someone who'd rather step in from the sidelines and do something for you rather than stand idly by and softly mutter to himself. "Mighty Aphrodite" is the first film in Allen's dense creative career which seems to have been at least partially inspired by the breaking of the infamous 1992 scandal surrounding the then-56-year-old's romantic entanglement with a woman more than thirty years his junior. Top it all off with the fact Allen's modern-set script for "Aphrodite" was vaguely drawn from the Greek myth of Pygmalion -- a sculptor who fell in love with a statue he'd chiseled -- complete with an onscreen chorus (led by F. Murray Abraham), and you can imagine the field day critics who often peg Allen's worldview as "condescending" could have with his 1995 Oscar-winning romp. They aren't exactly wrong, at least in the case of "Mighty Aphrodite", anyway. Allen goes for gold in riffing on culture and class warfare. "Aphrodite" would hardly be a blip if not for her, but the quarter-way appearance of Mira Sorvino, daughter of "Goodfellas" actor Paul, in a breakout role, certainly helps. As the biological mother of the recently adopted son of Lenny (Allen) and Amanda (Helena Bonham Carter) Weinrib, whom Lenny is hellbent on seeking out, Sorvino's Linda Ash -- a porn star, prostitute, and aspiring Broadway actress -- is busty, funny, obliviously tone-deaf and simple, a timid and tender soul almost aside herself in the bombshell body of a grown-up would-be sex symbol. A different approach to the character might have been hammy and loud, but Sorvino -- New York-born and Harvard-bred, with a tall, dirty-blonde, wispily pretty poise -- plays Linda without ever playing her up or over. That's Allen's job, and it's part of "Aphrodite's" shortcomings at not being the quote-unquote "great" movie it could have been. Where works like "Annie Hall", "Manhattan" and "Crimes and Misdemeanors" feel like high points of a certain mid to late-'70s into '80s era of rambling Woody Allen muse -- and even more recent films such as "Midnight in Paris" and "Blue Jasmine" feel like dazzling singular entities unto themselves -- "Mighty Aphrodite" is of the time nearing the turn of the century where Allen wasn't necessarily taking a sharp turn in terms of style, but was becoming far more generous and whimsical with his stamp. While it can register as light as a feather and too haphazardly off-the-cuff, "Aphrodite" is also clever, thoroughly engaging, and features a best-ever performance from Sorvino. It's Allen's humble gaze that's only intermittently mighty. (78/100)
Well. I got super gooey and personal in my write-up (because my calligraphy is SO much better than to be termed mere "reviews") of "Short Term 12" (which a lot of people seem to have liked, so thank you!) not that long ago so I can't do the same here in order to stay FRESH and NEW and not self-indulgent and...you know, whatnot. But. I don't know how else to review "Her". I feel as inclined and awkward as a student at the front of the class asked to explain what a certain something means or to solve a math problem.
Key word being FEEL inclined. Nothing on anyone. Nothing on "Her". Everything on me. I don't have to lay out the reasons why "Her" can pretty much be described in every/any positive adjective under the damn sun.
This is a self-professed Spike Jonze love story (it's there on the poster for crying out loud) and he traffics in magic realism. His narratives are a million miles away from actual logic, even though they keenly resemble it. "Her" is set in Los Angeles sometime in the Ikea-proofed near future, in which tweed pants are all the rage, most everyone lives in high-rise apartments and even those who don't nonetheless still share in taking their private lives behind computer screens public via matchbox-looking cell phone screens and Bluetooth ear pieces. So maybe Jonze isn't too far off from the happenstance of today. Actually, like it or not, he's dead-on.
Only he isn't here to sour or condemn. Eternal sunshine burns bright in his worlds. "Her" is a journey with as much catharsis as a honeymoon trip to the tipsy-turvy top of the Himalayas; it's just told -- guided and gentle is its arc -- through the slow-motion snow globe of the ups and downs of a complicated relationship. This one in particular happens to be between a man, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix, who makes like Freddie and quells any doubts as to whether or not he really is the greatest screen actor alive) -- a tender, no less horny in his own right soul who writes other people's love letters for a living -- and his Operating System, Samantha (hazily, dearly dubbed by Scarlett Johansson in a vocal performance that rivals her physical appearance for seductiveness, and demands serious awards attention in an already heated race.)
What makes this outstanding feature hum and click rather than echo the bizarro sentiments of Jonze's pantheon work with fellow trope-fucker-with Charlie Kaufman ("Being John Malkovich", "Adaptation") and that big-budget indie-movie-for-kids I still can't believe he got away with making ("Where the Wild Things Are") is that for the first time in his brilliant career "Her" is Jonze venturing solo as a writer. Maybe that's why it feels like his most poetic and personal submission yet; call it his "Synechdoche, New York", or "Punch-Drunk Love". "Her" has Jonze exploring themes of romantic disconnectedness, though never cruelly vilifying the digital age as a reflection of a reflection.
What he does instead is dare, dazzle and dream, immaculately conceptualizing the modern day notion of what love is, and what it means. The most impossibly intimate, spectacularly funny, thrilling- and vibrantly everything movies of the year, "Her" finds somber, sympathetic symmetry between the sweeping uplift of romantic beginnings and the often inexplicable enigma of their ends. (100/100)
REWATCH: I remember seeing "Babe" for the first time a few years ago and thinking it was overrated; cute but slight. Guess I was even more cynical back then than I am now, because "Babe" is an emotional roller coaster. Not a masterpiece -- its critical acclaim is kind of insane -- but I'll be damned if I didn't feel for every animatronic animal that talked and wobbled in Farmer Hoggett's small-town stable. I'll echo the sentiment that every kids' movie should be this rich and passionate, instead of fake and phoned-in. "Babe" goes to surprisingly dark places from which it doesn't once shy away, and that takes crazy cojones. An unbelievably tender film about childhood's end and adulthood's beginnings, from the mouth of a babe with the gut and grit of a war horse. Some pig indeed. (81/100)