I have been fortunate to rent two terrific films from the New York Public Library recently (yes, I am an old fart. What of it) — “Her” by Spike Jonze and “Beasts of the Southern Wild” by a no name. “Her” takes place in the future (you got me in your corner right there), following a lonely, post-divorce Byron type who writes personal letters for a living. He comes alive after purchasing an operating system created to imitate consciousness, played by Scarlett Johannsen. It’s classic boy meets girl-operating-system, they fall in love, they break up kind of story, but I loved its vision of the future, its sly commentary on the role of technology in our lives and the extent to which it has actually replaced real human interaction, music, sound design, and plain old design. The screenplay is so wonderfully written, the acting is there, and what I liked most is that I didn’t know what happened next. Spike Jonze is divorced from Sofia Coppola in real life, so I couldn’t help but assume that this story was part of his process of figuring out what the heck happened.
“Beasts of the Southern Wild” does not fit in a box. It follows a wonderful little girl actress in New Orleans, who is close to animals and her alcoholic, harsh, but still loving father, and it plays as sort of post-Katrina story. The actor whom they got to play the father was remarkable enough I looked him up — he’s not an actor at all. He was a restauranteur from the New Orleans neighborhood they were planning filming, he posted audition notices around his bakery, and eventually, went to audition as a favor to a friend. Whatever he brought — the producers decided this was the one for the part, chased him down, and hired a cadre of acting coaches to protect his performance. He has said that there are great actors in Hollywood, but since he lived through hurricanes and is a lifer in New Orleans, he brought something only an insider could possess. I love the stories of casting as fate, and I could not tell he was inexperienced from his performance. His character has such a loud, bombastic relationship with his daughter, that a quite moment later in the story was so neat. It was wildly different from “Her,” which kind of feels “indie,” except for the fact that everyone involved is a familiar, famous face.
Still, I loved both movies and thank the filmmakers for the wonderful relief their stories provided.