Written by Guillermo Troncoso.
Since making a name for himself directing music videos in the 90’s, with memorable works for Weezer’s “Island in the Sun”, Bjork’s “It’s Oh So Quite” and Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice”, just to name a few, Spike Jonze has made four key films. While they may differ in quality, each film is arguably special, creative, and uniquely bizarre. Whether it be exploring the mind of a strange actor in Being John Malkovich, depicting a writer’s frustrating journey in Adaptation, or bringing Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s story to life with Where the Wild Things Are, Jonze has proved that his is a unique eye. Her, his fourth film, at the very least equals his best work.
We meet Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a lonely man who hasn’t recovered from a recent separation. He works a desk-job, writing emotive letters and cards for others. He’s very good at his job, which may stem from the emotional anguish that his life has descended to. He spends his time alone and depressed, that is, until he purchases an operating system that is designed to meet his every need. Before long, Theodore finds himself in an unlikely relationship with Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), a system that appears to be more human that he first realised.
Here, the not-too-distant future is represented as a feasible extension of our current society. That’s probably what makes this world so likeable and tangible – you know it’s the direction we’re going. Strangely, it all feels like home. Technology is, of course, rampant, but it hasn’t completely ruined the earth, like so many depictions.
The plot itself is quite simple, but the themes explored are anything but. The primary emotion at the heart of Jonze’s film: love. Theodore is a heartbroken creation. A man full of self-pity and self-hatred, whose lack of emotional honesty has caused him to pull away from others. With Samantha, Theodore finds the sort of relationship that makes him happy. Is this relationship’s fruition natural? Is Samantha only riding on the electrical impulses she was programmed with? Can computers fall in love? It’s this mash-up of romance and sci-fi, along with Jonze’s sensitive ruminations on life, happiness, sex and family, that makes this so damn fulfilling.
If it’s all sounding too emotional and “deep”, fear not, for Spike Jonze’s Her works as a pretty funny comedy as well. At first, the decidedly adult humour startles. You’ll find yourself laughing uncomfortably as Theodore’s “phone-sex” doesn’t go according to plan, or at the first time he gets “intimate” with Samantha. Jonze’s fantastic, multilayered screenplay drives the laughs home naturally, rolling off every moment with ease.
Joaquin Phoenix holds a large responsibility for the film’s success. In what is easily one of his best performances, Phoenix brings a type of emotional innocence that we haven’t really seen from him. His career is littered with brooding roles with varying levels of darkness, but his Theodore, while still emotionally complex, is a much more likeable and pure creation. Scarlett Johansson gives a brilliant voice performance as Samantha. Her recognisable voice is the perfect combination of sweetness and tenderness, making it easy for us to understand why someone could fall for this operating system. As her persona grows, her emotional levels begin to become more human. It is here that Johansson really shines. Supporting turns from Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde and Chris Pratt are all fine as well.
Unfortunately, Her isn’t perfect. Nearly, but not quite. This is due to the conclusion, which sees Jonze write himself into a corner of sorts. The film rides along beautifully and confidently, but the last act seems to have nowhere to go. The film culminates in a somewhat anticlimactic fashion, pleased with taking an all too easy way out. Those that disagree, may have a perfect film on their hands.
Her is as fun and sweet as it is serious and profound. Jonze has crafted a provocative, melancholy and soulful love story. A film that tackles what it is to love and what it is to truly know one’s self.
THE REEL SCORE: 9/10