Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Her vs. The Congress, two films about the line between technology and humanity in the near future.
PremiseIf we have learned anything from films set in the near future, we are headed for a world in which technology reflects something freaky and humanlike. Such is the case in Spike Jonze’s highly anticipated Her and Ari Folman’s part-live-action part-animated The Congress. In Her, lonely, moustached Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is suffering from a recent heartbreak when he strikes up an unlikely romance with his operating system, Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). In The Congress, aging actress Robin Wright as portrayed by—you guessed it—Robin Wright agrees to have her likeness uploaded so a digitized version of herself can continue to act in films for eternity. Though the bizarre agreement pays Wright handsomely, the contract stipulates that flesh-and-blood Wright is never to act again. Both films are delightfully quirky. Both feature a flawed protagonist struggling with identity and self-worth issues. Both look pretty darn appealing; however, you really can’t beat a killer actor playing a warped version of his or herself. Even Jonze knows this from his Oscar-nominated Being John Malkovich.Advantage: The CongressCastThe cast of Her is a Who’s Who of awesome. There’s Phoenix (who coincidentally has experience playing “himself” in I’m Still Here), arguably one of the most capable and interesting actors working today. There’s Johansson, whose sultry voice we could listen to for eternity. Rooney Mara appears to play Phoenix’s lost love and Amy Adams his quirky friend. The common thread seems to be actors due for their first Oscar, which could very well be why Jonze pushed the release to a more “award-friendly” date. The cast of The Congress, on the other hand, has “been around,” so to speak. Robin Wright tends to play small “love interest of big star” roles (Moneyball, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo); however, her recent role in Netflix hit House of Cards reminded us how badass she really is. Wright’s agent is portrayed by the brilliant and beloved Harvey Keitel. Paul Giamatti, John Hamm, and newcomer Sami Gayle round out the cast. Though we dig the cast of The Congress, Her’s cast is just so now.Advantage: HerThe Big MessageBoth of these films are likely to prompt philosophical discussions about the ramifications of technological innovations and “where our society is headed.” Her explores the loneliness and alienation that comes along with our technology-dependent existence. It also quite literally sheds light on our relationship with technology and how it can act as a substitute for honest-to-goodness human interaction. The Congress looks at society’s obsession with youth, particularly in superficial industries such as film. While the youth-obsessed-society issue seems a little passé, we anticipate robot romance to be the philosophical discussion of tomorrow. Advantage: HerTechnological AdvancementThe technological advancements in Her and The Congress are both pretty darn appealing. The advanced operating system in Her offers the user companionship, entertainment, wake-up calls, and, most importantly, love (how sweet). On the other hand, the freaky looking upload chamber in The Congress offers the user immortality in the sense that their likeness lives on forever. Wright seems generally dissatisfied with the perks of immortality, while Theodore looks rather content with his bizarre future relationship. We’d take any technological advancement voiced by Scar-Jo anyways.Advantage: HerAntiheroHer and The Congress both feature an unlikely hero. Her’s protagonist, Theodore, is meek, awkward, and wears unappealing salmon-colored shirts. In The Congress, Robin Wright plays Robin Wright; however, this Robin Wright is insecure about her advancing age and the fact that she did not become an A-list actress when she had the chance. We’ve seen Joaquin play socially inept and poorly dressed before (The Master). Not only is bizarro Robin Wright an interesting concept in itself, she also spends half the film in animation.Advantage: The CongressThe Verdict While Wright as Wright in partial animation is a spectacular concept, we have to give this one to Her for the remarkable cast and potential to make us cry. If Jonze’s short film about robots in love, I’m Here, is any indication, Her is bound to be equal parts heartwarming and heartbreaking.Winner: Her