Jen Wang is one of the smartest women I know — so who better to bring with me to see “Lucy,” a movie about the smartest woman on the planet?
Jen is a fellow school mom — our sons have been classmates and buddies for the past couple years — and the co-creator of the website DISGRASIAN.com, which focuses on Asian American issues and race. She always has inspired, thoughtful takes on a wide range of pop-culture topics. And she loves movies. And she loves drinks. You can see why we’re such good friends.
We met at the ArcLight Hollywood for a press screening of “Lucy” — starring Scarlett Johansson as a woman who accesses unprecedented brain power after being turned into an unwitting drug mule — then chatted afterward over watermelon tequila cocktails across the street at The Hungry Cat. I cannot vouch for how much of our own brain power we used in this discussion — the percentage might have dropped as the night went on.
CL: So what did you know about this movie going into it? You mentioned that you thought it would be a lot like “Transcendence.”
JW: Well … that was just Dave’s (her husband’s) opinion. He was like, “Isn’t it a lot like ‘Transcendence,’ which we just saw, which was terrible?”
CL: Right. It’s got some “Transcendence” to it. And some “Matrix.” And some “Tree of Life.”
JW: I thought about those movies, yeah. To me, it’s like the third installment in the holy trinity of Scarlett Johansson not-quite-human movies that she’s been doing. I mean, in the end, she basically becomes who she is in “Her.”
CL: It’s a great hybrid of her characters in “Under the Skin” and “Her.” She’s driven and predatory and not human like in “Under the Skin,” but she’s changing and she’s evolving and her brain is exploding in ways she doesn’t understand like in “Her.”
JW: And when she becomes that weird kind of black goo, that reminded me of “Under the Skin.”
CL: Because that’s what’s … under the skin. Spoiler alert. I like how she’s had this reinvention — and I’ll add the “Avengers” movies to this, too — in that she’s not the sexpot in a Woody Allen movie. She’s not confused or lost or vulnerable. She’s a bad-ass and a strong woman and she’s using her looks totally to her advantage to get whatever the hell she wants in whatever setting she’s in.
JW: Yeah. In all those three movies that we were just talking about, she doesn’t have a body, she borrows a body and then her body becomes a computer. And she’s so known for her body. It feels like she went to a backroom and calculated something with somebody where they were just like: “Look, this is the second phase of your career.”
CL: I should mention right now that Jen ordered oysters … those are all yours for your enjoyment. I’m gonna watch you eat oysters.
JW: Is this gonna be, like, exactly transcribed?
CL: Quite a bit of it, yes. I edit out me babbling. But when I’ve done it with Nic, for example, that’s four minutes of tape, and of me getting mm-hmms and yeahs out of him.
JW: Well that’s the only reason I agreed to do this was because I was like, well, if she can get a 4 1/2-year-old to do it …
JW: Then that’s OK.
CL: But speaking of our kids, though — as a parent, watching her brain explode reminded me of watching our kids figure things out. And she speaks about the primal nature of humanity and that’s like our kids.
JW: Also the phone call to her mom …
CL: That was very emotional.
JW: It was super emotional, although I was like, can she only cry out of one eye? She only cried out of her right eye the whole time.
CL: Well once she gets to use 100 percent of her brain, she gets to cry out of both eyes. Did you like this movie?
JW: I thought it was fun. I liked the actiony parts — the car chase, the shoot-outs.
CL: When she’s manipulating the guys in the sky.
JW: That’s hilarious.
CL: But that’s the shitty, EuropaCorp, Luc Besson, B-movie standard stuff he has to do. I think he’s trying to get at something much more profound — perhaps he doesn’t articulate it all that effectively — but I think he’s getting at it, but he has to have the car chase through Paris in order to get the financing.
JW: The ideas in “Her” that are about how this is what we’re doing with our lives, to some degree this is like the photo negative of that movie. I feel like I’ve seen movies that are more interesting — what was that weird Bradley Cooper movie where he takes the drugs?
CL: “Limitless”! Yeah. It’s a lot like that.
JW: I don’t know that there were really profound ideas here. It was like: “Now go out into the world and do this.” What, use all our brains? … Another thing that disturbed me: So many of these movies are multicultural, multinational. This had that same vibe where they were all picked up in these different European airports and all the cops are so perfectly cast.
CL: And it takes place in Taipei at the beginning. That’s calculated as hell.
JW: It is, for so many reasons. I mean, international box office, but also just like: The Asians are all the bad guys?
CL: I was seriously about to ask you that question.
JW: Like, we see the globe and we go all over the world and everybody is sort of multiethnic, multiracial, multinational, and they’re all trying to do some good. And then there’s just the bad Asians with big guns.
CL: Does that bother you?
JW: You know, it didn’t occur to me until the middle and then I couldn’t stop seeing it because it felt so one-dimensional on one side and also, like, a calculated bid for an Asian audience. But it’s a really low barrier of entry, like: Let’s get some Asian characters, and they’re the only ones who don’t speak English. They’re Korean but they’re in Taipei. Who knows why. And they take mostly white people to be their drug mules — which I felt was some, like, Western cultural anxiety about the rise of Asia.
CL: Whoa! So it is profound, see?
JW: But it’s profound in a totally different way.