The idea of taking the popular 70s show Fantasy Island and turning it into more of a Twilight Zone/horror flick is actually a good idea. Too bad they couldn’t make a good movie out of it. As with the show, a group of people are brought to a tropical island to live out their fantasies. In this darker version, the fantasies don’t quite work out as they expect and dangerously so.
Flick is flatly directed by Jeff Wadlow from a weak script by by Chris Roach and Jillian Jacobs, that seems like it was made up as it went along. Things get more and more ludicrous as the film progresses. It takes an amusing premise and rolls it out as unimaginatively as you can think of. There is no suspense, no tension and no innovation with turning a classic TV show concept into something much darker. It’s four segments playing out at the same time and none of them very interesting. The supernatural mumbo-jumbo as to how and why this is all happening is silly, as the revelation that everyone’s fates are somehow connected is no surprise. The big end reveal as to why these particular five are all here, is laughable…though points for the audacity in giving it a somewhat upbeat ending after all that goes on. The movie is also about ten to fifteen minutes too long and by the last act you just want it to be over. Flick also wastes a good cast, including Michael Peña as Roarke, Maggie Q, Michael Rooker, Lucy Hale and Portia Doubleday. This might be one of the only times one can say the versatile Peña is miscast. That, sadly, is the film’s biggest accomplishment. Blumhouse, lately, has been churning out cookie cutter thrillers like this. They make these flicks so cheaply, that even a misguided mess like Fantasy Island makes them money…so why should they try harder?
Finally caught up with this interesting, involving and slightly whimsical Spike Jonze flick and found it a very enjoyable, offbeat and heartfelt movie. The story takes place in a not too distant future and focuses on Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a man who writes letters for others for a living and has just suffered a heartbreaking separation from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara). Theodore, in his loneliness, buys a computer operating system with an artificial intelligence made to learn and adapt to their owner’s wants and needs. Theodore chooses a female voice and the OS chooses the name Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). But, the more time Theodore spends with Samantha, the more their relationship grows and the more Theodore thinks she’s all he needs and starts to fall in love with her. And Samantha feels likewise but, as Samantha grows and evolves and begins to experience new emotions and desires, will Theodore be all she needs?
Writer/director Spike Jonze delivers a rarity, an intriguing and very original romantic-comedy, a sub-genre that is one of the least adventurous genres and one that rarely steps outside the stale formula. He presents the idea of a computerized operating system that becomes such a perfect fit for it’s owner that it creates an emotional attachment, becoming a friend and a lover. Especially poignant, as it does so at a time where Theodore is wounded and afraid to connect with others of flesh and blood including his cute best friend Amy (Amy Adams) who has also recently gotten a divorce. Of course Jonze is making a comment on the increasing reliability on personal computers and cellphones, which almost seem to be a more important part of our lives then our friends and loved ones. We seem to spend more time communicating with and through our computerized devices and less and less actual time socially interacting with those around us. Why commit to the emotional investment of talking to someone face to face when we can text or E-mail and be done with it. Jonze gives his cautionary tale of loving our gadgets too much a very subtle and sly sense of humor and filmed his romance in the city of Shanghai to give it that futuristic look. The cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema accents Jonze’s colorful but slightly sterile future and there is a very effecting score by the band Arcade Fire that really embellishes the atmosphere and mood set by Jonze’s deft direction and clever story.
The cast is wonderful with Phoenix creating a very strong character in his Theodore, a man with his own intimacy issues who is wounded by the collapse of his marriage and afraid to start looking again and thus finding the perfect mate for his current emotional condition in the artificial intelligence that grows to suit his every need, Samantha. As the voice of Samantha, Scarlett Johansson gives a wonderful performance as an intelligence that is learning new emotions and experiences and who falls in love with the man who teaches them to her. She has only her voice to convey her feelings and does a simply amazing job of portraying the wonder of discovering new emotions and the joy of love for the first time. She and Phoenix make this work. If either of their performances were off, the film would simply have not come together and so well. We also get another strong performance by Amy Adams as the nerdy Amy, Theodore’s best friend and a person he cares for more then he wants to admit. The actress has become quite the chameleon. Rooney Mara is fine as the estranged wife who still haunts Theodore in his thoughts and has a really nice scene with Phoenix as they hesitate when the moment to finally sign the divorce papers comes. A very effecting and real sequence as they both must face the fact that it is indeed over. There are also some eccentric supporting performances by Chris Pratt as the quirky receptionist at Theodore’s job, Olivia Wilde as a pretty blind date that Theodore wasn’t quite ready for and Portia Doubleday as Isabella, a beautiful young woman who wants to act as the surrogate for the bodiless Samantha. A very eclectic and strong cast that really make Jonze’s vision work very well.
In conclusion, I really enjoyed this film very much. It’s a heartfelt romantic comedy as it is an original one. It is also a cautionary tale about becoming too close to our computerized gadgets and letting our flesh and blood relationships fall to the side. It is well directed, intelligently written and has some wonderful and understated performances by all the cast. A very unique indie film and a real treat. Highly recommended! Also features vocal cameos by Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig.
MonsterZero NJ extra trivia:Pretty actress Portia Doubleday who plays the surrogate Isabella is the daughter of actor Frank Doubleday who played the creepy Romero in John Carpenter’s classic Escape From New York!