Her (2013 Warner Bros.)
A lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with his newly purchased operating system that’s designed to meet his every need.
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, Scarlett Johansson. Directed by Spike Jonze. Written by Spike Jonze. Executive Producers: Megan Ellison, Spike Jonze & Vincent Landay.
This is a deep, deep picture. Set in a future that seems simultaneously far, far away and just slightly out of reach, Her tells the story of Theodore Twombley, played by Joaquin Phoenix, a lonely writer who’s all but given up on relationships after he and his wife split up. He’s just going through the motions in a world where technology is all but embedded into everyday life. Theodore’s loneliness does not impede his ability to compose thoughtful, heartfelt and deeply personal letters to friends, lovers, parents and loved ones, but the problem is he’s pouring out his lonely heart on the behalf of others.
It isn’t until Theodore meets Samantha that his world and his heart opens. Samantha is, of course, “her.” Who is she? Well, you probably already know what she isn’t: a person. But that doesn’t stop the two from forging a connection that is personal, passionate and real; at least, to Theodore, it’s real. And to him, that’s all that matters.
The film plays on themes of love, intimacy and the idea of what is “real.” It also seems to be making a subtle statement on relying on technology vs. human interaction. See, in this world, Theodore isn’t the exception. Everyone is tethered to a computer, staring at a glowing rectangle in their hands while walking down the street.
More than just about Theodore’s relationship with Samantha, Her is an exploration of what makes humans connect to other humans…or connect to whatever it is that they want. What’s remarkable about the story is every major character is searching to bond with another person. Some succeed and some fail. Even though she was in only one scene, Olivia Wilde turns in a strong performance that explores longing, insecurity and emptiness. She won’t win any awards, but she took a small role and made it memorable.
Joaquin Phoenix may have turned in one of his best acting performances as Theodore. With so much of his emotion coming through in conversations with the disembodied Samantha, director Spike Jonze brought the camera right into Phoenix’s face. We see every smirk, ever muscle twitch, every tear as it happens. Where Phoenix succeeded is making us feel Theodore’s love for Samantha as well as his desperation. In that regard, the cinematography is largely “quiet.” Jonze relied on the actors carrying his story. Also, give credit to Scarlett Johansson as the voice of Samantha. We never see her, only hear her interactions with Theodore, yet Johansson was able to bring a very real emotion to character.
Even though it will go unnoticed by most, the set design and consuming of Her deserves accolade. Jonze and crew created a future that felt plausible and authentic. Although I’m not so sure I’m looking forward to a future of high-waisted, gray flannel pants and banded collar shirts. I digress.
Her is a strong, evocative film. It’s a love story. It’s a statement. It’s a personal redemption story. Jonze succeeded in telling a heartfelt, sometimes funny story about love, loss and how relationships evolve while quietly raising questions about our relationship (as a society) with our technology.
RATING: ***-1/2 (our of 5)