Spike Jonze’s masterful Her may be the closest we come to the cinematic equation of a fairy tale for adults. It’s magical, thought-provoking and a creative take on the joys and pain of finding true love.
Granted, the film’s premise of a lonely writer falls in love with a cutting edge artificial intelligent operating system seems at first glance to be a bit out there, but Jonze finds a way to make it seem as reasonable as any other relationship.
Jonze, who both directed and wrote the script, paints an intriguing metaphor on the symbiotic nature of people and their phones, tablets, etc. and takes it to an even greater emotional connection.
Jonze almost seems ahead of the curve here after considering how many people seem more attached to their devices then real relationships. And doubtlessly if the possibility did exist, it’s not that big a stretch to imagine some people would rather have virtual love over the real thing.
Set in a not-too distant future, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix, The Master), works as a writer crafting “heartfelt” letters for clients too busy to express their feelings for one another on their own. Theodore is still coping with the end of his marriage to Catherine (Rooney Mara), whom he never envisioned not spending the rest of his life with.
Phoenix humanizes Theodore in a way to make him sympathetic to anyone who’s had their heart broken without allowing him to come off like a pathetic loser. Theodore is broken, living a barely there existence where the only thing that changes is the backdrop while he’s staring at a screen.
Interactions with his friend, Amy (Amy Adams, Man of Steel), and her husband reinforce what he feels like is forever lost with Catherine gone. In a crowded field, Phoenix may not receive his third Best Actor Oscar nomination, but his performance ensures he should be part of the conversation.
On a whim, Theodore decides to purchase a new advanced operating system and names it Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson, Don Jon).
With an insatiable thirst for knowledge and longing to experience life like a person, Samantha wants to see and do it all while giving Theodore a new appreciation for everything he’d been missing out on in his virtual funk.
Hoyte Van Hoytema’s (The Fighter) cinematography is warm and inviting if just a bit washed out and faded, adding to the pleasant daydream quality of the story.
Jonze reportedly had a longer cut of the film, but it still could have been trimmed slightly just for the sake of pacing.
As Samantha and Theodore’s bond strengthens, so too does their feelings for one another, but Theodore soon realizes that even a program designed to fulfill all his needs has its own requirements.
Johansson never spends a second on film, which has led to some critics dismissing her work, but that’s what makes her performance even more remarkable. Johansson doesn’t have the benefit of an animated character acting out her dialogue onscreen and has to convey every emotion solely with her voice.
And as the movie progresses, Johansson expertly conveys Samantha’s evolution from an actual blank slate to a complex “individual” with her own desires and insecurities.
Her is unlike anything else you’ll see this year. It’s a romantic drama that dares to be different and with Jonze at the peak of his storytelling prowess, it’s easy to love “Her.”
Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Photo Credit: Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures