Thank god for Megan Ellison!
Perhaps an odd opening for a review, but I really mean it. Ever since her company, Annapurna Pictures, was founded, it has given so many great films (including the likes of Zero Dark Thirty and The Master) the much deserved attention and financial backing to films that, otherwise, would never have seen the light of day. One of these films that received backing from the company was Her. An at once poignant, but also deceptively bizarre sounding film from director Spike Jonze, of Being John Malkovich and Adaptation fame, the film was one of the best received films of 2013. After it won the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay, my interest in the film had piqued drastically. Having had time to let all my thoughts on the film sink in since my first viewing, I can enthusiastically declare it one of the best films of an already fantastic year in films.
In the not too distant future (La-la-la), a man named Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) spends most of his time in an anti-social bubble. A man specializing in writing “personalized” love letters for customers at his job, he is going through a messy separation from his wife (Rooney Mara), and is fragile to the point of shielding himself from sharing his feelings with any other woman. In fact, he’s much closer to his Bluetooth and phone than just about any other person. Eventually, when he hears of a new artificially intelligent operating system to help him through his daily routines, he installs the program, and strikes up an unlikely bond, and eventual romantic relationship, with his OS, Samantha (voiced with complete grace by Scarlett Johansson).
In an age where social media and technology continues to evolve, the premise and timeliness of Her feel especially powerful. In the day and age of the film, the relationship with OS systems, rather than feel alienating to the people Theodore meets, is greeted with a lot of social acceptance, including from a friend of his (played wonderfully by Amy Adams), who strikes up a friendship with another OS. For the film, this idealism of the ever changing nature of relationships provides one of its greatest strengths.. Surely, the love that eventually blooms between he and Samantha feels real, but is it just another safeguard? Is it another way for him to shield himself from having an honest human relationship, and merely a way to avoid the responsibilities and heartbreaks of a genuine commitment?
It could be all those things and more, but it also serves as a wonderful commentary on the nature of what a truly committed relationship can be based on. The love that Theodore has for Samantha isn’t at any superficial face value, as many failed romances tend to fail because of lack of true compatibility. Stripping away all of those physical ideals, the love that blooms between the two is based on the sparkling chemistry and their well matched personalities. Most of this is coming from their numerous conversations, talking about their hopes, their fears, their struggles, but it isn’t always perfect. As in every relationship, couples can hit major roadblocks and engage in heated arguments, and they can try to work through these issues, or decide it best to go separate ways. The way that Her engages all of these issues is absolutely terrific, played with complete authenticity, and fully realizing the ambitions it sets for itself.
Both the writing and direction by Jonze work so well together, immersing us into the stunning near-futuristic setting of the film through the gorgeous aesthetics (accomplished through excellent production design and hypnotic editing and music), and all around spectacular acting. Joaquin Phoenix is in spectacular form here, giving a devastating and sensitive performance that stands among his career best work. The way that he taps so effortlessly into Twombly’s state of mind, being able to read people to the most inconsequential detail (aiding in his touching letters), but failing to be able to connect to anyone due to his own hesitation and fear, is simply flawless. Not to be forgotten is Scarlett Johansson, who makes Samantha feel so real, you can practically picture her on screen. The gradual evolution of her character, from that of mere technicalities to that of the devastatingly authentic human personality, is one of the film’s most emotionally involving elements. The interaction between these two incredible characters is enough to justify a ticket price on their own.
***** / *****