Release: Friday, January 10, 2014
When Spike Jonze makes a film this intelligent, it’s pretty difficult to comprehend the fact that this is the same guy underneath all that ghastly ‘Old Granny’ make-up in Jackass. Even though that was a pretty minor role Jonze played in the show/movies, it was still a semi-recurring one. Yet, it couldn’t be a more polar opposite experience to what he’s presenting here.
His Her is destined to be a modern classic, an enchanted fairytale for the iPod generation. Stylish, comical and surprisingly poignant, this original screenplay from Granny Jonze captures human interaction and emotion like few films have before. For every decent (or even great) romance film or love story that has preceded this and the missteps they have taken in their efforts to affect audiences a certain way, Her manages to learn from those errors and simply avoids making them.
Seeing as though virtually everything that could possibly work for a film does work for this one, let’s start at the main menu, with the performances, for they are astonishing.
Joaquin Phoenix dons a pair of thick wire-framed glasses (yes, this pair actually does have lenses) and a funny mustache as he transforms himself into yet another peculiar lead. This time it’s Theodore Twombly, a lonely Los Angelino in the middle of a painful divorce from Catherine (Rooney Mara). His performance is one of the man’s most earnest and vulnerable; this is a person who doesn’t know what he wants out of intimate relationships. That’s true of the past and certainly his biggest conundrum looking forward. Phoenix disguises a complex range of emotions within his furrowed brow, occasionally expressing the more irrepressible of them with a wide-eyed, slack-jawed look of disbelief. The nerd-glasses are particularly effective in conveying his discomfort on a number of occasions.
Phoenix is no doubt the focus here, but it’s what Scarlett Johansson is able to accomplish with a disembodied voice that will come to distinguish this production.
In this more impersonal society, technology has spawned an operating system that is intended to help people stay more organized and on task. Code-named OS1, Theodore can’t help but get one of his own since he figured it couldn’t hurt him anymore than he already is. Beginning as a mere sentient program, she quickly develops a genuine personality in which Theodore feels comfortable confiding. She even names herself ‘Samantha.’ In fact, technology has reached a point to where the OS1 learns to feel exactly as a person does or would in any given situation, but because it is a highly-advanced program, it has an obligation to learn so much more. In fact, it’s not even obligation — this is just what computers do. Samantha’s capacity to learn, to feel and experience proves to be far greater than Theodore could have imagined, the more they get to know one another.
Johansson’s role may seem limited — even off-putting — but this ethereal, beautiful voice couldn’t be more entrancing. The ease with which she stores herself into the viewer’s long-term memory is, in all honesty, haunting.
Not fully convinced that two incredible central performances are sufficient, Granny Jonze cleverly thrusts the story into a latter-21st-century context. The L.A. of the future doesn’t look so radically different as to be unrecognizable, but there’s an oh-so-slight dystopian accent which enhances this sense of distance between people. The fact that most passers-by caught in any given shot all seem to be engaged in an OS1 chat of their own is intended to give viewers pause for consideration. Never before has having a conversation with someone who’s less than ten feet away from you seemed like such a quaint idea.
And yet the chemistry between Theodore and Samantha proves an utterly beautiful contradiction to the environment in which their relationship has been established. The fact that it’s possible to feel some emotion towards what even the least discerning of audiences recognizes as a very intelligent computer system, is a testament to the quality of the screenplay and the respective performances. And while the leads are certainly unforgettable, there are a couple of contributing performances that help realize dear old Granny Jonze’s vision.
Olivia Wilde’s brief appearance as a blind date Theodore meets one night (at Samantha’s request, actually) is well-placed. In a few brief minutes we gain a deep understanding of the type of relationship she’s looking for, and simultaneously a better understanding of who Theodore is. . .and isn’t. This cast isn’t exactly extensive, and because it isn’t, the film benefits further from the only other main character’s strong presence in Amy (Amy Adams), who is Theodore’s friend from college and currently a colleague at the letter-writing company he works at.
A couple of others get to (literally) phone it in, with Kristen Wiig connecting briefly as one of the film’s arguably funniest moments; and Chris Pratt gets to be the weird receptionist guy who takes an unusually strong interest in Theodore’s writing skills. Though slight, each little quirky character adds to the awkwardness of the experience.
The director clearly trusts in his cast enough to let them do the heavy emotional lifting, but as a writer, he steps in with an unusually perceptive script that builds (and demolishes) characters and situations in completely believable ways. Attention to detail is at a level unparalleled in many films as of late, manifested in everything from the color palette (mainly reds), to the pillow talk Theodore has with Samantha, to the way Phoenix scrunches his eyebrows in reaction to things.
Granny should know the effort that went in does not go unnoticed. Her. . . excuse me, his film, Her — if there’s any justice in the world — should stand as one of the proud cinematic achievements of the 21st Century. Not only a deeply emotional film, it’s a conversation about the future that we needed to have.
Recommendation: Neither strictly romance nor dedicated to being simply sci-fi or comedy, Her dramatizes elements of each while incorporating a refreshingly earnest take on relationships and it strikes an emotional chord while doing so. Anyone who has ever considered themselves in one of those, well. . .you should probably see this one. That does sound like a lazy recommendation, but honestly it’s the truth. This is one of the best films I personally have ever seen. (Too soon?)
Running Time: 119 mins.
Quoted: “Sometimes I think I have felt everything I’m ever gonna feel. And from here on out, I’m not gonna feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I’ve already felt.”
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