Synopsis: A lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with his newly purchased operating system that’s designed to meet his every need.
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Pratt
Director: Spike Jonze
Running Length: 126 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (9/10)
Review: At first glance I wasn’t sure what to make of Her. After all, a Spike Jonze written/directed film starring the unpredictable Joaquin Phoenix (The Master) about a man that falls in love with a computer program could, without question, have gone either way. Even looking over the rest of the cast from Rooney Mara to Amy Adams to Olivia Wilde and especially Scarlett Johansson, (all actresses I like but don’t love) I couldn’t tell if this would wind up being another awards buzz movie I’d be forced to slog through and defend my overall opinion to hoity-toity critics or a new twist in the romance genre.
It was with a certain delight, then, that I emerged from Her so totally refreshed by its unconventional romance and stimulated by its two unlikely leads. Too often critics are eager to toss out the term “modern romance” when describing a film that portrays a love story without large flights of fancy but what Jonze has created here is a futuristic romance without a lot of extra bells and whistles or spaceships to Mars.
In the future as imagined by Jonze (and not that far off the mark, I believe) we’re all even more interconnected to the world with our activity on the web downloadable and programmable leaving little to the imagination. Fashion wise, I’m sorry to say that Jonze (who also had a hand in Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa) believes we’ll all be wearing high waisted wool pants, too…frightening.
Employed to write letters from loved ones that don’t have the time to do it themselves, Phoenix finds just the right words to make his clients and their addressees happy. In his own personal life, however, he’s not so lucky in love. Recently divorced and not yet ready to go back on the market he’s intrigued by the latest in tech must-haves…an advanced operating system that’s tailored to cater to him specifically. After a brief set-up filtered through a typical Jonze-ian questionnaire, Phoenix is introduced to the one woman that will truly change his life…Samantha.
Scarlet Johansson (Don Jon) wasn’t the original actress cast to be the voice of Samantha…that would be Samantha Morton who was on the set every day with Phoenix to film his scenes. When the film was completed, Jonze discovered that Morton’s voice didn’t fit exactly with the rest of the film and Morton being the pro she was agreed. Johansson was brought in to redub Morton’s work without ever going through the live on-set emotion Morton and Phoenix shared.
Knowing this, it’s remarkable at how in tune Johansson and Phoenix are in the film and the buzz surrounding Johansson being the first actress to be nominated for an Oscar for voice-only work isn’t that unwarranted. Her take on Samantha is grounded, curious, playful, and understanding…never resorting to breathy cooing or attempts at seduction…as a computer program, she’s not designed for that…so the eventual feelings she starts to develop for Phoenix are lovely and genuine.
Phoenix too grapples with the knowledge that he’s falling for his operating system. Knowing that she’ll never be a real person and recognizing that she may be the best thing to ever happen to him he walks a fine line between a fantasy that can never be and the reality of his burgeoning love for her. It’s a high-wire relationship that Jonze, Phoenix, and Johansson handle with the greatest of care.
Aside from Phoenix, the rest of the cast is filled out primarily with females. Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Side Effects) plays Phoenix’s ex-wife and their frigid lunch meeting counters nicely with Phoenix’s flashback memories of their loving earlier life together. Popping up in a brief cameo is Wilde (Rush) as a first date for Phoenix that goes south pretty quickly…I’ll say it again that Hollywood hasn’t yet found the right way to use Wilde. Though she has less than a quarter of the screen time than she does in American Hustle, Amy Adams has a much greater impact here as a residential acquaintance and former flame of Phoenix that understands his current situation more than he/we think.
Make no mistake, though, that the movie belongs to Phoenix and Johansson. After a while, I forgot that Samantha was just a voice and we never actually “see” her in the film. The way that Jonze has filmed the movie and the way that Phoenix and Johansson run with the material make for a classic romance with its peaks and valleys of joy and heartache.
Her easily made my list for Best of 2013. In a future world perhaps years away from our own when it’s hard to make a live connection with someone, Phoenix finds a love that can never be returned but finds himself thrilled and reenergized. You’ll thrill right along with him.