Her

Her photo starrating-4andahalfstars.jpgHer is the work of a perceptive individual. Spike Jonze has 4 films in his directorial repertoire and he has managed to make a statement with each one. Her is perhaps his most accomplished one yet. He not only directs, but for the first time, he is working from a screenplay that he has solely written himself. With all due respect to the cleverness of past collaborator Charlie Kauffman, Jonze should continue to do this. The writing is brilliant.

The setting is Los Angeles. The time is the near future. Joaquin Phoenix is Theodore Twombly. He works for a company called BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com, a firm in the business of doing just that, providing moving hand written correspondence for other people. It’s kind of like Hallmark, but to the 10th power. He’s a scribe that’s very good at his job. There’s an irony however. His own existence is far from emotionally perfect. Recently split from his wife (Rooney Mara), he is a broken man. Then one day he purchases some new software for his computer. It’s a highly intuitive, self aware, disembodied voice, “the first artificially intelligent operating system“ that makes today‘s technology seem antiquated by comparison. Initially she begins by merely organizing his emails, but her personality is more than organizational. He has many conversations with her. His dependence deepens.

Her is a curious vision of the world to come, but it’s still refreshingly restrained. The movie should age well. Jonze uses background shots of Shanghai to represent a Los Angeles of the future. The cinematography is soothing blue and grey pastels often disrupted by the color of Phoenix‘s shirt. I liked the high-waisted beltless pants. It’s suitably familiar to be recognizable, but noticeably different to clearly not be of this time. Yet the majority of the action takes place in sterile, serene rooms where people simply converse. This gives the bustling metropolis of LA a peaceful, Zen-like gloss on the surroundings. There is a minor nagging contention that the production is based on nothing more than different rooms with a man talking to a computer. But the elementary scene construction generates undeniable results. it’s a deceptively simple conceit that yields an emotional powerhouse.

As the voice of the OS, Scarlett Johansson is sensitive, yearning and passionate. Her name is Samantha. Her intonations mimic the sound and speech patterns of a human voice, but without the complications that a living human brings. The obvious analogue would be Siri, the personal assistant application for Apple’s iOS. Where the language interface of Siri is a rudimentary version of a talking human, Samantha is an almost sentient entity. This isn’t the sound of a computer, but of an advanced individual with the desire to please. The drama is made up of their conversations. She encourages him to seize life both professionally and romantically. They have an easy familiarity with each other right from the start, Her influence starts to have a profound effect. As their interactions grow more thoughtful, their bond becomes increasingly intimate. They provide a cogent dissertation on the nature of relationships in this ever-evolving digital age. This is the giddy delight of two people getting to know one another.

Her is Spike Jonze’s magnum opus on love. He is gently dissecting our modern computer era. With its heavy reliance on cell phones and the Internet, his vision of the future is just enough like our own to be instantly relatable. But is an attachment to a voice too far fetched? Of course it isn’t really the voice, it’s the fully formed personality that we connect with. As the operating system, Scarlett Johansson expresses herself with a joy and wonder that is positively captivating. The doubt with which people used to regard relationships between people who met online, courts a gradually eroding skepticism. Her illustrates the plausibility for someone to fall in love with a person they’ve never met, better than any work of fiction I’ve ever seen. The script analyzes what constitutes love and makes the case that a passionate connection doesn’t even require a physical body. It relies on making an emotional bond with a person on a spiritual level. What sounds like science fiction on paper, is actually one of the most deeply felt romances of 2013.

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29 Responses to “Her”

  1. Cracking reivew, Mark! I love the concept and also the fact that filmmakers seem to have realised that audiences need more than the sappy characters and predictable plots we usually get from the rom-com conveyor belt. This is one my most anticipated films for next year, unfortunately it’s not out in the UK until February!

    • Rom-Coms routinely rely on facial expressions and body language. That’s not a bad thing but it provides an easy way to extract emotion. Her’s reliance on dialogue only and not physical acting allows the narrative to delve into relationships on a much deeper level. An extraordinary film.

  2. Can’t wait to see this!

  3. Oh my goodness I cannot wait to get to this one. Great write-up as always. Would you consider this to be a noteworthy performance from Joaquin Phoenix or is more so about the writing of this most unusual of relationships?

    • Joaquin Phoenix should be commended for his socially regressive Theodore Twombly. I personally think it’s a memorable performance and one deserving of a nomination. Whether he will actually receive one is hard to predict.

      The script should garner a nomination for Best Original Screenplay at the very least. With 9-10 Best Picture nominees, Her should be cited in that category too. It’s already won the top prize from the National Board of Review.

  4. Nice review. I’m a huge Spike Jonze fan and have been waiting for Her about all year. I heard recently that Jonze is currently working on a new project with Charlie Kaufman, hope it goes through.

  5. it’s interesting because i find the film more indicative of today’s dating culture than what is to come for the future.

  6. Fantastic review, Mark! Can’t wait to see this one!

  7. The previews for this make me cringe. Phoenix is perhaps the boldest current actor in the industry with “I’m Still Here”, “The Master” and now this one. He is not afraid to make himself vulnerable. I normally embrace films that are uncomfortable to watch, but this one seems like it’d be a task for me, but based on your review I will most likely give it a go. I always say I want something creative, so maybe this will suffice.

    • It wasn’t uncomfortable to watch, although I’ll admit the story is a bit odd.

      • GaryLee828 Says:

        I just watched this yesterday and thought it was decent. I still found the premise odd and hard to believe he would actually develop genuine feelings for an operating system.

        I thought it was funny when they were fighting and she said she would “talk to him later” and she “had to go”. What if he needed something? I guess the OS decides when it feels like working. Hey, as often as computers crash or boot you offline, etc. maybe this movie wasn’t so far-fetched since our computers also decide when they want to work or not. lol.

        The funniest moment of the film to me was when Samantha pulled up the picture of Theo’s potential blind date and the little kid shouted “FAT!”. lol.

        Theo totally reminded me of Leonard from “Big Bang Theory”. Did you get that vibe? The resemblance in demeanor was uncanny.

      • I don’t watch that show, but I googled him and he does look similar. I saw Michael Stuhlbarg in A Serious Man actually.

      • GaryLee828 Says:

        Oh dude, you should watch at least one episode just to see Leonard’s demeanor. It’s not so much the way they look, but how they act. Leonard had to be someone Phoenix was trying to incorporate into Theo. I’d be shocked if it wasn’t.

        Here’s a clip from the pilot episode for you to check out. Since you like “Her” so much I think you’d like this series.

  8. I went in with an open mind, cause the topic seemed kinda dumb to me. The moment it started, it quickly felt right. The story was not overly futuristic, but just enough to seem real. And the acting by Joaquin Phoenix, brilliant. I loved this movie. 4 1/2 stars.

  9. You’re definitely not the first person I know to comment on how much you like the high-waisted pants of the future haha. You’re also not the first person to laud this film is. Although I’m not a huge fan of Joaquin Phoenix, I’m anxious to see Her, based on Jonze’s fascinating social commentary and the film’s subtext. Looking forward to discussing the movie with others after I watch it.

    • Joaquin Phoenix is so different in this film. He might surprise you. I don’t know anyone who has seen Her that didn’t put it in their yearly Top 10.

      • A lot of people I know have put it in their yearly top 10, which is why I’m more likely to give it a chance, even with Mr. Phoenix involved.

  10. Again, I agree. Her is powerful. Any flaws are very minor, and the merits are tremendous. It doesn’t quite crack my Top 10, but that is more a testament to the year’s other films, so many of which are great.

    This is Jonze’s best film, indeed.

  11. Just watched this one last night. Such a sad movie.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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