Starring: Joaquin Phoenix (The Master), Scarlett Johansson (The Avengers), Amy Adams (American Hustle), Rooney Mara (Side Effects), Chris Pratt (The LEGO Movie), Olivia Wilde (Tron: Legacy)
Writer/Director: Spike Jonze (Adaptation.)
Runtime: 2 hours 6 minutes
Release Date: 18 December (US), 14 February (UK)
Spike Jonze certainly has one strange imagination, doesn’t he? His films have a quirkiness that seems abnormal, but they always manage to come around with a message that is true and human. Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. are huge favourites of mine and Where The Wilds Things Are, whilst not as great as his other works, does have a good sense of creativity and heart. His latest effort Her definitely feels like one of his works and, whilst like a lot of his films it takes some time to fully comprehend, my gut reaction tells me that this is one of his finest.
Whilst Her has a sci-fi element to it, it isn’t about that. The futuristic aspect is purely circumstantial; it is there as a backdrop to fit the nature of the story. Whilst it is a film about a romance, I wouldn’t exactly call it a romantic film either. Elements of both romantic drama and romantic comedy are there, but it never feels like that is what the film is about. Really, it’s a film about the ups and downs of emotion told through this bizarre relationship. There is an emotional arc, a feeling of development and a firm story, but this is a film that certainly puts character and emotion first and that is what really makes the film feel special. Many scenes are just Theo (Phoenix) and Samantha (Johansson) talking about their feelings and their thoughts, but they manage to hold the film entirely by themselves. The film clearly takes no firm side on the issue of having a relationship with an AI, as both the positive and negative aspects of this arrangement are examined. It shows the beauty of a relationship formed purely on an intellectual and emotional basis, but does show what the lack of physical interaction and the somewhat impersonal nature of it can do. But despite all this, it is a film that has more heart, more feeling and more humanity than most films about traditional romance. That simple fact goes to show you that with just the right mindset and effort, you can make any inconceivable romance seem genuine.
There is rarely a moment of screen time where Joaquin Phoenix isn’t in frame, and the fact he spends most of it talking to an inanimate object just shows you how powerful his performance is. Like the film itself, Theo is a character with a cavalcade of emotions constantly flying, and Phoenix makes every one of them seem genuine and human even when most of them relate to his feelings towards a computer. The rest of the physical cast is top notch and all provide a different dynamic for Phoenix to play off of. Amy Adams’ character serves as a good emotional mirror to Phoenix as she deals with similar grief and confusion. Rooney Mara’s role is brief but powerful, pulling the film back down to reality and providing a very critical view of this situation. Chris Pratt works as good comic relief, giving the film the right amount of levity at all the required moments. Olivia Wilde has little more than a cameo, but her few scenes do point out the confusing nature of real relationships. But probably the most well performed and emotionally grabbing performances is for a character that doesn’t even have a face. Scarlett Johansson’s Samantha is a wonderfully fascinating individual, as she seems just as human as anyone but not only does she lack physical form but it is hard to comprehend what she actually is. She is a constant presence, but often remains a mystery. She goes through as much torment and change as Theo does, but we don’t really understand what that change is. All of this comes entirely through Johansson’s voice, and it is this type of performance that really makes me want The Academy Awards to create a new category for vocal performances because this is the kind of depth and effort to a role that deserves some kind of reward.
As mentioned before, the sci-fi aspect of Her is very underplayed. The film’s idea of the future is one that seems very comprehendible; a look into a possible time that certainly feels like it could happen. Everything futuristic seems logically designed as if it belonged in our world. Not since Minority Report have I seen such a vision of the future so immersive, and perhaps one day we will see these advances come to reality. The cinematography is simple but warm and alluring, giving the picture a soft romantic feel without stripping it of honesty. Arcarde Fire’s soundtrack gels very well with the feel of the movie, gently accentuating the range of emotions being portrayed on screen.
Her is a fascinating tale that transcends labels and just tells the story it needs to tell. It is a film that can fill you with joy and sadness, laughter and depression, love and anguish; sometimes all at the same time. By the end of it all, I left with a mixture of emotions in my head but one thought stuck firmly in mine was “that was beautiful”. It may have arrived very late to the party here in the UK, but I do think it ranks very highly on my list of the best films of 2013.
FINAL VERDICT: 10/10!