Amplifying Black Voices: Do the Right Thing- A Spike Lee Joint

If you are tired of turning on the news to see another black person being killed by another policeman then you need to watch 1989’s Do the Right Thing. If you are tired of having to memorize another name on a never ending list of Breonna Taylor’s and George Floyd’s then you need to watch 1989’s Do the Right Thing. If you are frustrated that things seemingly never get better then…well you know.

Every one should watch or re-watch Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. Especially right now in this moment in time when a chunk of the world is starting to actually admit there is a problem. What you will find is things are exactly the way they were back in the ’80s. In 30 years nothing has changed. And that should make you angry and disgusted. Even if you are tired of hearing about it you need to keep reminding yourself how bad it is because we can’t have another 30 years of unfettered violence by those pledged to protect all of us.

For those of you who are too tired of dealing with the same stories over and over, just imagine having to live through it for decades. Just imagine being 32-year-old Spike Lee writing, directing, and starring in a film about a policeman killing a black man and then waking up on May 25th, 2020 as a 63-year-old man witnessing George Floyd falling victim to the exact scenario you made a movie about. And George Floyd is only one of the many, many, many victims in the 31 years since the movie’s release. Just another name on a never ending list.

The truth is this film could have been released in 2021 with only minor changes (Mookie would work for Grubhub instead of directly for Sal’s Pizzeria for example) and it would be renowned for the timeliness of it’s message. Hell, in a twist of life imitates art, it might have been criticized for shamelessly ripping off the headlines of the George Floyd murder. Sadly, this film represents the present as much as it is a story of the past.

And in the present, as it was in the past, this film is near perfect. It has the feel of a play with an irresistible cast of characters set on a single block in a neighborhood in the borough of Brooklyn. The block is a character. The heat is a character. The pizzeria is a character. The boiling racial tension is a character. It is set in a single day and moves through it with pacing that is impeccable and makes you want to stay forever.

For a while you think this is going to be a movie seemingly about nothing. Just a day in the life of numerous people living in Bed-Stuy on a hot summer day. And it still feels worth your time because the movie is alive and real. Then you realize this film isn’t allowed to be about nothing because people of color don’t have that privilege.

And then it happens. Sal, the owner of the pizzeria is remarking how good of a day it was. Despite the heat he and his sons made a lot of pizza and earned good money. He is a proud Italian-American and even prouder that the mostly black neighborhood that he serves has grown up eating his food. From there everything shifts quickly. Tensions boil over due to a seemingly small thing. It moves fast and before you know it a black man is dead by the hands of a policeman and the single block in a neighborhood in the borough of Brooklyn will never be the same.

Except it will. Because things never change and this is the existence of the block and of black lives. Sure they will all miss their friend that died but at the end of the day he will just be another name on a never ending list.

An Ode to a King: Black Panther

Over the weekend we should have celebrated Chadwick Boseman’s 44th birthday. It probably would have been mostly unremarkable and easily missed. There would have been a trending hashtag on Twitter, #HappyBdayBlackPanther #HBDChad. And Chris Evans or Mark Ruffalo or someone in the Marvel family would have had tweeted a sarcastic birthday wish mentioning Royalty or King. And we would have all moved on, after all 44 is extremely young.

Alas the world, and 2020, is a cruel place. While Mr. Boseman was celebrated, it was posthumously. Disney proved they might have a tiny fragment of their soul left by replacing the opening logo of Black Panther to one that honored Boseman as a form or remembrance. And there were plenty of tweets but they were marked with sadness and with reminders of the fragility of life.

I, for one, like to celebrate lives instead of mourn them. I believe living 43 years, becoming a successful actor, playing important historical figures like Jackie Robinson, James Brown, and Thurgood Marshall is miraculous. I can’t be sad about this man I never met, I only want to enjoy what he left behind.

To do so I decided to re-watch Black Panther. I am a BIG Black Panther guy, I will defend it to no end. I am typically one who voices displeasure over movies that are overhyped (Avengers: Endgame, The Dark Knight) but I truly believe Black Panther deserves every ounce of hype.

But before this weekend I had never watched it for Chadwick Boseman. I watched it the first time in theaters because I was in the height of my Marvel craze. I watched it the second time in theaters because I wanted to show my support for the black artists the best way I know how, money. The third time was to pay attention to Ryan Coogler’s directing after learning how young he was. Every time after that was probably because I was listening to the Kendrick Lamar soundtrack and it reminded me how good the film was. I never really focused on the man playing the titular role but could you blame me? This cast is filled to the brim with amazing performers, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, MICHAEL B. JORDAN, it’s truly remarkable.

When I finally started paying attention to the man behind the mask I was blown away. Boseman’s performance is balanced, calm, reassuring, and strong. Which is exactly what the role demands. T’Challa is the only superhero, that I know, that has to balance the weight of being a political leader while also physically protecting his people. Peter Parker meanwhile struggles to balance studying and petty thieves. T’Challa has to be political and well-liked. He needs to put his people first, balancing their traditions with their technological advances and with exposure to the harsh outside world. To a world that has proven to not welcome their kind.

T’Challa also has to deal with the death of his father and the king of Wakanda T’Chaka. Boseman displays T’Challa’s emotions beautifully when the character gets one last chance to say good-bye to T’Chaka on the Ancestral Plane: “I’m not ready to be without you.” T’Challa states to his father (a moment that hits the audience even harder in 2020) to which T’Chaka replies, A man who has not prepared his children for his own death has failed as a father.” The raw emotion and vulnerability displayed by Boseman (and John Kani) in this scene alone makes the film stand above it’s Marvel counterpoints.

This role was more than your typical superhero role. Boseman had to not only had the handle the character with strength, vulnerability, and intelligence but he also had to balance the real world implications of the role. Namely the weight of being the first black superhero in the MCU and the pressure of leading a superstar cast. Somehow Boseman managed to accomplish it all.

That is something worth celebrating.

Amplifying Black Voices: Selma from Ava DuVernay

How’s everyone doing out there? Good I hope. Make sure you’re staying safe and taking care of yourself. That’s been pretty challenging this year, but it’s more important than ever.

Of the many losses we have endured in 2020, one of the more notable ones was the passing of John Lewis, longtime Congressman for Georgia, civil rights leader and proponent of good trouble. Upon his death, colleagues and admirers praised his memory and were adamant that the best way to honor Lewis is to continue his legacy of fighting for justice and equality for black people.

Selma shows us Lewis towards the beginning of that journey, as he embarked on a series of voting rights marches along with fellow leaders Martin Luther King Jr., James Bevel and Hosea Williams, among others. Things go about as well for them as you’d expect in 1960s Alabama: white supremacy rears its ugly head to meet them head on and the marchers are beaten, arrested and in some cases murdered. If you know your history or if you’ve simply seen the film, you know that ultimately King, Lewis and co. overcame this particular wave of hatred and bigotry and completed their march from Selma to Montgomery. These efforts were a key part of securing voting rights for black people. Happy ending, right?

Well, not exactly. Selma was released in 2014 but in many ways, the story is timeless. It is sadly an accurate depiction of any point in U.S. history when black people have advocated for their own justice. John Legend, who won an Oscar for the song he and Common wrote for the film, expressed that this is still very much a modern story. DuVernay rightfully showcases the efforts of these civil rights heroes, but this is just as much of a wake up call as anything. 2020 provides all the evidence you need to see that these issues are as deeply rooted in our country as ever. The murder of George Floyd. Black Lives Matter protests being attacked both literally and figuratively. The shooting of Jacob Blake. The lack of justice for Breonna Taylor and Elijah McClain (who was murdered not too far from where I live). On and on it goes.

DuVernay is an expert at pulling back the curtain and educating us on these systemic problems. One of the lessons here is that there is a danger in viewing Selma in a solely historical context because of its modern day relevancy. It disappoints me that many critics chose not to highlight that aspect but rather how inaccurately Lyndon B. Johnson may or may not have been portrayed. If your main critique of the film is that the white President didn’t get his fair share of credit for the supporting role he played in this movement, you are missing the point. And besides, adaptations in film are not supposed to be documentaries. As Lewis himself wrote, “We do not demand completeness of other historical dramas, so why is it required of this film?”

I think that alone shows how much work is to be done to reach true equality and justice for black people.

Amplifying Black Voices: Queen & Slim from Melina Matsoukas

Queen: “He told me nothing scares a white man more than seeing a black man on a horse.”

Slim: “Why?”

Queen: “Cause they have to look up at him.”

When a story about an altercation between a black man and a white cop comes to light we are fed a typical narrative. The white man was a hero, doing his duty, had no choice to resort to violence. The black man was resisting, aggressive, had a criminal record. There are key words and facts intentionally used to paint a clear picture.

Queen & Slim feels like a free space away from the media slant and away from how we typically engage with stories like this. A bubble where there is no discussion of guilt or regret. No remarks over the dead cop or how he was a hero or how he had a family or how there are good people on both sides.

Instead we are put there. As a voyeur who gets to see exactly what happens. We get to focus on the black people and their journey. We see two young, intelligent black people get pulled over by a cop. We watch as they comply to the cop’s demands even as they get increasingly nervous. We get to see the misunderstanding that leads to Slim shooting the cop dead. And we feel their anguish as they get in the car to drive away. We yell at the screen telling them there is a better option, that logic is on their side, that they were defending themselves, that surely people will understand the circumstances. And then we realize it’s not that simple, there is no better option as a black person. They know exactly how this is going to end and driving away is their best option.

As a white person viewing this movie I’m grateful it provides a small glimpse into what it means to be a black person in America. Of course I will never be able to fully understand what that means but this film provides hints of unspoken bonds and assumed consequences black people face. There is subtext and nuance to this film that I am aware of but I feel only people of color can fully grasp.

It’s in the way Queen and Slim run without much acknowledgment to their options or lack thereof. It’s the knowing nods of, mostly, approval they receive from black strangers. It’s the lack of surprise when an estranged niece shows up at her Uncle’s house needing a place to hide. It’s all there in character interactions, unspoken, unflinching, unsurprised

These interactions are led by incredible performances from Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya. We of course know to expect this type of performance from Kaluuya thanks to Get Out but his effortless coolness and understated performance plays perfectly to the outstanding Turner-Smith. This is my first exposure to her and it left a hell of an impression as she plays a tough, wildly intelligent, go-getter. Even more impressive is the chemistry the two share as they experience the worst Tinder date of all time.

This film is without a doubt worth your time, especially in 2020. The black experience in modern day America, as far as I can tell, is strongly represented here by Melina Matsoukas in her directorial debut. Of course it’s telling that the best way to express the black experience is through a road trip genre film following the main characters avoiding racial persecution by running away from the police. Truly it’s a more ruthless and honest Bonnie and Clyde where instead of a bored white woman looking for cheap thrills with her amateur criminal boyfriend, it’s two young black people wanting to go home from a fucking Tinder date without being accosted for the color of their skin.

An Ode to a King: 42

My eyes are red and puffy this weekend. I’ve been crying. I started crying as soon as I heard the news.

It’s truly devastating that Chadwick Boseman passed away.

I’m not trying to be flashy with that title. Boseman was a true king in many ways: he selflessly gave his time and effort to others, used his considerable talent to portray multiple black icons in film and just genuinely seemed like a good dude. Oh, and he spent the last years of his life battling colon cancer without ever saying a word about it. I can’t imagine the courage and resilience it took for him to handle that the way he did, but Boseman never missed a beat. It’s truly difficult for me to fathom that he’s gone. 2020 has been cruel and unfair virtually across the board, but this one hurts in a completely different way.

We made a pledge recently to spotlight more films by black directors, actors and writers. While the circumstances are terrible, we thought it would be best to honor Boseman’s legacy by talking about his contributions. That brings me to 42.

I can’t think of anyone else who could’ve played Jackie Robinson. There are undoubtedly other fine actors who would have done justice to the role, but would they have brought as much charisma and defiance as Boseman? Could they have so effortlessly depicted a man who held up extraordinarily well under the duress he was thrust into? One of my favorite scenes comes early in the film. Wendell Smith has to move Robinson to a different house after a threat on his life is made. Speeding away in the middle of the night, Robinson begins laughing hysterically.

Wendell asks, “Man, what is so funny?”

Robinson replies, “I thought you woke me up because I got cut from the team.”

I think that says about all you need to know about who the man was and what his priorities were. And perhaps that partly explains how Boseman so naturally disappears into that character: he understood Robinson in a way that few of us can. Those two only ever had their eyes on the big picture.

42 has been accused of overdramatizing Robinson’s first season with the Dodgers, such as the dugout scene where the racism of an opposing manager causes Robinson to lose his temper, and he lashes out in anger. I continue to be befuddled by critics who hold a movie to the same expectations as a documentary, but that scene is also an important one. Robinson is the vehicle for the audience and we are disgusted to see how he was treated, and that these things still happen in our country today. A sane person would probably get fed up far before Robinson did.

It’s a real treat to watch Boseman and Harrison Ford exchange dialogue, expertly capturing the relationship between Robinson and Dodgers owner Branch Rickey. Ford, who said being apart of this story was a great honor for him, gave one of his best performances in years. I wonder how much that had to do with him playing opposite of Boseman, and how much a great man truly lifted everyone he came across.

While celebrating his films is one way to honor Boseman, an even better one is to uphold the values that he believed in while he was alive. Support the type of change that you want to see in your community. The best way to do that is to get out and vote this fall. That link will help you register if you haven’t done so already.

Amplifying Black Voices: 13th from Ava DuVernay

What’s more difficult? Earning someone’s attention or keeping it? Over the past few weeks the Black Lives Matter movement has finally earned the attention it has long deserved. We here at Flimsy Film Critics firmly believe Black Lives Matter and we do not want to see this movement turn into only a moment, we want them to matter every day going forward.

As two privileged white males the best thing we can do is listen and then use what we learn to help spread the message of equality and the need for systemic changes in every avenue of our world. Not only spread the message but use our platform to amplify their voices. Clearly this won’t solve everything but we feel it is our responsibility to do our part to help keep this obscenely important message alive and well and in the forefront of everyone’s mind.

Watch.

The best place to start in the film world is the documentary film 13th from Ava DuVernay. It’s probably the most recommended film in light of the recent week’s events and there is good reason for that. Just watch it. This documentary sets the stage and clearly lays out exactly how we got to the place we are today. It is harrowing, difficult to watch, and filled to the brim with so much information that it will demand a second viewing just to take it all in.

Listen.

The documentary breaks down how the current state of our judicial system was created to imprison as many people as possible, particularly people of color. It shows the clear transition from the end of slavery to the exploitation of a loophole in our constitution to keep entire generations of a portion of our society down.

Educate.

The film overwhelms the viewer with clear data that lays bare the clear racism that exists in our policies, our policing, and our politicians. It states plainly the horrors that black people face every single day.

Amplify.

Ava DuVernay is the first black female director to have a film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture for Selma. She was the first black female director to have a documentary film nominated as well for 13th. And yet it has taken weeks of protests and press and attention for my network of people, and myself, to start paying attention to her. Her talent is incredible, her work speaks for itself, and we need to stop ignoring people on the basis of their gender and their skin. We need her voice and we need to listen.

There is no justification for not joining this equal rights movement. There is no justification for not watching, for not listening, for not educating, for not amplifying. The time should have been decades ago but the time is now. Watch. Listen. Educate. Amplify.

Black Lives Matter.

BlacKkKlansman Entertains and Educates

Part of the reason that I touched on Charlottesville last week was because of the end of BlacKkKlansman. Before the final credits, the film cuts to a recap of the Unite the Right protests and counter-protests, ultimately coming to rest on a dedication to Heather Hayer and an upside down American flag. Spike Lee’s award-winning social commentary is a stark reminder that racism and white supremacy are still alive and well in our country, and you never have to go back very far to find the proof.

That ending had a profound impact on me. Aside from the fact that it was a classy gesture on Lee’s part to pay his respects to Hayer, he made it clear that we’re too quick to forget what happens in front of our very eyes. Upset as I was upon learning the horror that unfolded in Charlottesville, I admittedly moved on with my normal life and gave it very little thought until I saw BlacKkKlansman. Lee knows this about our society and isn’t going to let us off the hook just because we found his movie entertaining.

And that really doesn’t even do justice to the film. BlacKkKlansman is a riveting, surprisingly humorous account of Ron Stallworth’s infiltration of the Ku Klux Klan. He can’t do this on his own, since the Klan isn’t big on recruiting black guys, so he enlists the help of his white co-worker Flip Zimmerman to pose as Stallworth in person. What follows is a series of tense encounters between fake Stallworth and the Klan, and the real Stallworth and his fellow officers. Not surprisingly, racism emerges in both situations and the reluctant partners are forced to rely on each other more than they would like.

John David Washington, the son of Denzel, commands the screen like his father while simultaneously setting himself apart. His Stallworth is a determined, tenacious officer, forced to juggle multiple responsibilities in a town where some of his peers want to see him fail. He makes a connection with the president of a local Black Student Union, and she openly expresses her disdain for cops (with good reason based on how a certain racist officer treats her). It’s a literal no-win situation, but Stallworth remains steadfast through it all, The man turned in a remarkably impressive performance and I look forward to seeing the prodigal son in Christopher Nolan’s Tenet next month.

And what a relief it was to see Adam Driver with a script that matches his talent, considering they completely wasted him in Rise of Skywalker. To Zimmerman, this whole operation is just another assignment. He grumbles at Stallworth’s directions not because he’s a black man, but because Zimmerman doesn’t like a rookie telling him how to do his job. And yet, he sticks with it and stands in solidarity with Stallworth. At a certain point, you can see it slowly dawning on the Jewish Zimmerman that he should probably have personal motives for bringing down the KKK. Driver is a Rubik’s Cube of emotions, bringing a complexity to the role that resonates all the more in this day and age.

There are scenes in BlacKkKlansman that strongly evoke recent events. That’s because instances of racism in America are never that far removed from present day, if at all. The question isn’t what we’ll do to finally address this issue as a country, but when.

When will America finally own its racist ways and implement some meaningful change?

Jojo Rabbit Denounces Fascism, with a Dance and a Laugh

Taika Waititi is a name you should know by now. If he didn’t win you over with What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Thor: Ragnarok, surely Jojo Rabbit is the one that will make you want to hop on the bandwagon. And if you’re a fellow cinephile and the man still hasn’t earned your respect, I’m not really sure what else he has to do. His work over the past decade speaks for itself, and my word does Jojo Rabbit have a lot to say.

One reason why I prefer to go into a film as blind as possible (try and avoid trailers, don’t read reviews, etc.) is that it eliminates any preconceived notions that our minds tend to create. That way the story and performances present themselves as they truly are and I can form my own opinion. So when I heard that Waititi was making a black comedy about a young boy trying to prove his worth in the Hitler Youth (complete with Hitler as his imaginary friend), I was sold. I didn’t need to see or read anything else before watching the movie, because based on Waititi’s track record I fully expected he would deliver the goods.

Plenty of humor? Check. Absurd portrayals of Hitler and his Nazis? Check. A likable young hero that comes of age with the love and support of those older than him? Check and check. Tender moments that wallop you right in the feels, alongside poignantly voiced opinions regarding the pitfalls of bigotry and hate… wait, I’m sorry, what? That last bit caught me a bit by surprise. Waititi had already established himself as a reliably entertaining and amusing voice in cinema, but here he proves that he can educate us with those same elements. He doesn’t want us to forget this ugly period of history, lest we see it repeating itself in the modern day world. I’m sure there’s a lot of people out there other than myself that can relate to that.

Of course, none of this works if you have the wrong actor playing young Jojo. I have a feeling that Roman Griffin Davis is another name we’re all about to become familiar with. His Jojo is a very enthusiastic member of the Hitler Youth. The propaganda he’s been fed his entire life has him convinced that becoming a Nazi and upholding all of the ideals of the party is the best life that a little boy can hope for, and so he pursues that goal with relentless zeal and vigor. The Jewish Waititi turns in a wonderful and ironic performance as the imaginary Hitler, cheering Jojo along to become the best Nazi he can be. As expected, the boy’s pursuit comes to clash with both his true nature and the not so little secret that his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their house.

The perspective of the film is extraordinarily unique. Yes, a child who has been brainwashed by fascism is going to perceive his country in a much different way than the rest of the world, but Waititi ensures that this perception is still childlike in nature: Nazi officers are dashing and brave, Hitler can (and should) be your best friend and Jews are dangerous monsters to be feared and avoided. It’s the type of satire that the Monty Python boys would’ve strived for in the same position, and it results in some rather thought-provoking exchanges. When Jojo encounters Stephen Merchant’s Gestapo Agent, Merchant towers over him and compliments his admiration of Hitler: “I wish more of our young boys had your blind fanaticism.” Or when Jojo is confiding in his friend Yorkie about the Jew in his house. “I saw some (Jews) that they caught hiding in the forest last month,” Yorki says. “Personally, I didn’t see what all the fuss was about. They’re not at all scary and seemed kind of normal.”

The propaganda machine is telling Jojo one thing, while he begins to see the world and his own beliefs for what they really are. When those moments of childhood innocence are abruptly halted by real life horrors, that’s where the lessons begin and where Jojo Rabbit becomes more than just another fun time at the movies with Taika. Veteran actors Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell are strategically cast as Jojo’s mother and Hitler Youth Captain. They have the chops to be light and breezy when the situation calls for it, but also come through in some of the more dramatic elements of the film.

That tonal balance is a tricky line to walk and is my only real critique of the film. When the narrative is coasting rather comfortably through satire, then suddenly veers off into a very real and tense moment, that shift becomes a little jarring and at times it feels like you’re watching two different movies. On the other hand, growing up as a kid in Nazi Germany was probably chalked full of jarring shifts, so perhaps I’m being too nit-picky. I do reject the idea from critics that this subject matter is taboo and shouldn’t be poked fun at. What better way to truly see how dangerous and ridiculous this ideology was?

In case you’re wondering, there is still time to hop on the Waititi bandwagon. It’s getting a little crowded and a few people will have to scooch together, but we’ll make room.

100 Movies Bucket List: Moonlight

100 Movies Bucket List was a poster given to Jesse by his sister on Christmas 2019. We are committed to watching all of these movies and writing about them. We have no idea how long this will take. What even is time during the quarantine? And sometimes, these posts will include spoilers. Just a friendly warning from two friendly guys.

The 2016 film Moonlight is not just a character study of a young black man growing up in the streets of Miami working through his identity and sexuality. It does more than show his life and his struggles, it actually takes on the personality of the protagonist. The film, much like Chiron, is soft-spoken and pensive, layered with love but with a growing aggression boiling beneath the surface.

Midway through the film that aggression bursts through with a violent act that, in a traditional story structure, would be the climax of the film. However in the deft hands of director and writer Barry Jenkins, the real climax comes in a late scene and is accomplished entirely through dialogue.

The climax coming through dialogue only works because the real beauty of the film is its subtlety. Each cut, each word, and each moment is meaningful and succinct. This is not your typical critical fodder attempting to cash in come award season. Typically films that are upper case IMPORTANT and TRANSCENDENT go out of their way to be as long and drawn out as possible. Moonlight stands out from that way of thinking and proves that a movie can be tragic, lovely, and IMPORTANT without the fluff.

At just under two hours, Jenkins manages to take the audience through the life of Chiron  from bullied adolescent to withdrawn teenager to successful drug dealer. The transitions are smooth and timed perfectly. Just as you think you are understanding Chiron he grows up and changes in ways you didn’t expect. Broken out in chapters based on his nickname at each point in his life (Little, Chiron, Black), and played by three different and remarkable actors, we see the subtle growth of a young man trying to figure himself out. From a skinny, scared child to a muscular drug kingpin, the only trait carried form youth to adulthood is his uncertainty about his own identity.

The direction of Jenkins is best represented by how the three actors portrayed Chiron at different stages in his life. The transition from Alex Hibbert (“Little”) to Ashton Sanders (“Chiron”) and finally to Trevante Rhoades (“Black”) could have been jarring or confusing but these three actors, and Jenkins direction/trust, did a remarkable job losing themselves in Chiron so much that it feels like a natural growth of the character.

Rhoades especially stands out as he had the toughest job of them all to transition Chiron from a scared teenager with an identity crisis to a tough guy masking his insecurities with bravado. Rhoades’ ability to show the scared child in his eyes while walking around with a veneer of a tough guy is remarkable and represents the pains that “outcasts”, especially gay minorities, will go to to fit in or not to be bothered.

Moonlight’s beauty comes from what is unspoken, Jenkins trusts the audience to fill in the gaps based on subtle glances and body language. A trust he can bestow because he carefully constructed a multi-layered loving, tragic piece of art with perfect pacing. It’s akin to reading poetry or listening to a song, it’s best to watch it for yourself and, like the moonlight on your face on a cloudless night at the beach, let its beauty sink in.

 

100 Movies Bucket List: Her

100 Movies Bucket List was a poster given to Jesse by his sister on Christmas 2019. We are committed to watching all of these movies and writing about them. We have no idea how long this will take. What even is time during the quarantine? And sometimes, these posts will include spoilers. Just a friendly warning from two friendly guys.

This is the second time we have written about Her on our site. I don’t think we often feel the need to touch on a film more than once. We either collaborate on a Let’s Talk About post or just trust the other guy to write about it. I trusted Kevin when Her first came out and he nailed it, as usual. I’m not here simply to tell you how great this movie is, because he already made that point rather emphatically and there are plenty of reviews and articles to support that. So why am I here?

Is Her being revisited just because it’s part of this series? Partly, and as we continue to to forage our way through this list of 100 movies, maybe that will happen more and more. But I think I would have had something to say even if I wasn’t obligated to share. This film hurt me. It reminded me of a time in my life when I was very withdrawn and afraid. The story conveys those emotions in such a realistic way that I was right back there again: a depressed introvert that badly needed a connection, but wasn’t going out of his way to find it.

And for that, I’m grateful. While it can be painful to reflect on these difficult moments that we all experience in our own way, it’s equally important to not forget them. How else can we truly appreciate how far we’ve come in our lives if we don’t take a second to look back and remember where we used to be? I like to think that’s where Theodore, Joaquin Phoenix’s character, finds himself at the end of the film: accepting of the failures of past relationships, appreciative of the good times and the love that was shared, and finally willing to embrace the change and see what a new day has in store for him.

Did I mention this is a guy who rebounds from his divorce by entering into a relationship with his operating system?

A premise that absurd on the surface would’ve been a disaster in less talented hands or if a studio just wanted to make a fun rom-com out of it. It’s a testament to the performances of the lead actors and the tight direction from Spike Jonze that things don’t go completely off the rails. Is there another actor in Hollywood who could’ve done more with this role than Phoenix? Is there anyone that we could’ve related to so effortlessly when he is mostly emoting without anyone else on-screen? I don’t think so. To be fair, I can envision this type of OS actually being released in the real world and many men falling hopelessly in love with a voice that sounds like Scarlett Johansson. Credit goes to Jonze for depicting a future that is not too distant and entirely plausible.

And then there’s the score. It is the perfect soundtrack not just because it works for the film, but because you can easily picture it playing over all of those uncomfortable moments of your own past romances. The courtships, the instances of joy, the rough patches, the breakups and all of the empty spaces in between. It’s the empty parts that pack the biggest wallop, I think. When I listen to the score, I can remember myself floating for seemingly endless amounts of time in that relationship purgatory. I felt trapped there, as most of us do when we are in pain and aren’t doing anything practical to try and fix it. 

I hope I’m making sense here. The point is I don’t always connect with a film on a deeply personal level, but when I do I try to understand why. Her resonated with me and so many others because we’ve all been Theodore at one point in our lives. I certainly don’t think Jonze and his crew were trying to make us all miserable by digging up our past trauma. Rather, I think the message delivered is a very positive one.

It’s okay to not be okay, but don’t be afraid to embrace the opportunity to be happy when it presents itself to you. Love and heartbreak has a profound impact on us, but what we learn and take away from them can help us grow and change. I’m happy to say that I find myself in a much better place these days.

If you aren’t there just yet, give yourself some time. Eventually you will too.