Sunday, January 12, 2014
Written and directed by Spike Jonze, Her is the story of a recently-divorced man who falls in love with a female voice produced by an intelligent computer operating system that gets him out of his funk. The film is an exploration into the world of loneliness and longing where a man deals with himself as he falls for this machine who has the personalities and feelings of a human being. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, Chris Pratt, and the voice of Scarlett Johansson as Samantha. Her is a ravishing and evocative film from Spike Jonze.
Set in a futuristic Los Angeles that isn’t totally removed from present time, the film is an exploration into an introverted man not just dealing with divorce but finding a connection with an operating system who calls herself Samantha. It’s a film that is a very unlikely romantic comedy where Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) falls in love with this OS as she has all of the emotions of a human being even though she is only a machine who organizes his emails, proofreads the letters he writes for people in his job, and deal with other things that he couldn’t do. She’s also a great communicator which adds to the complexity of her character and her relationship with Theodore who starts to go out more and become even happier. Especially as Theodore is still struggling with his divorce from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara) while the only friend he talks to is his neighbor/college friend Amy (Amy Adams).
Spike Jonze’s screenplay not only explores Theodore’s loneliness as he struggles to re-enter the world until Samantha comes into his life. It also showcases Samantha’s own desire to be human as she wants to touch Theodore as their love becomes immensely powerful. While Amy would discover this as she would embark on her own relationship with an OS after her marriage falls apart in the second act. Things do get complicated when the operating systems start to go beyond their capabilities as they begin to ask big questions about themselves which would play into the film’s third act. Even as it would affect Theodore who becomes so attached to Samantha as he tries to resolve what went wrong in his marriage as he would also big questions about himself.
Jonze’s direction is truly entrancing in the images he creates where he shoots the film in both Los Angeles and in Shanghai as if it’s set in a city of the future where many machines are voice-activated as people carry small devices with an earplug to listen to the voices of the operating systems. Still, it’s a world that isn’t too far removed from modern times as they’re still cars, planes, and such while people still talk to each other and do all sorts of things. The direction that Jonze presents is very unique in not just the world that Theodore lives in but also the sense of isolation that he’s in where he often looks at the city skyline from his apartment as if he is yearning to connect with someone or something.
The direction has Jonze not just use a lot of wide and medium shots but also close-ups such as the first shot of the film where Theodore is writing a letter on his computer. The use of tracking and some handheld camera shots play into not just some of Theodore’s world but also the enthusiasm he has with Samantha where she looks through a camera lens of what she is seeing in Theodore’s device. It would add to the weight of this relationship where it’s quite funny at times that includes a few scenes of Theodore interacting with a video game character along with some comments that Samantha says during the moments she has with some friends of Theodore. The overall result is truly a rapturous and extremely touching film about love between a man and a machine with human feelings.
Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema does some absolutely tremendous work with the film‘s lush and colorful cinematography from the look of the skylines in Los Angeles and Shanghai to the use of sunny colors for some of the exteriors as well as the use of lights as it‘s one of the film‘s highlights. Editors Jeff Buchanan and Eric Zumbrunnen do amazing work with the film‘s editing with its use of jump-cuts and other rhythmic cuts to play into the film‘s romantic evolution. Production designer K.K. Barrett, with set decorator Gene Serdena and art director Austin Gorg, does brilliant work with the set pieces from the background of trees in the elevator at the apartment building Theodore and Amy live in to the place that Theodore works at as it‘s filled with gorgeous colors and such.
Costume designer Casey Storm does excellent work with the costumes from the colored shirts that Theodore wears to reflect his personality as well as some of the clothes of the people that he meets. Visual effects supervisor Janelle Croshaw does superb work with the visual effects such as the video game Theodore plays to some of the minimal backdrops in the city that he lives in. Sound designer/music supervisor Ren Klyce does fantastic work with the film’s sound to play into the atmosphere of the locations and the sounds that come out in the computer while compiling the film’s wonderful music soundtrack which includes pieces by the Breeders, Will Collins, Nickodemus, Entrance, Little Willie John, Philip Guyler, and the Chantels. The rest of the music features some ambient and plaintive piano pieces by Owen Pallett as well as original music by Arcade Fire which plays to the film’s emotional tone as well as an original song by Yeah Yeah Yeahs vocalist Karen O that Theodore and Samantha sings.
The casting by Cassandra Kulukundis and Ellen Lewis is incredible as it features some voice work from Spike Jonze as the video game character Theodore deals with as well as the voices of Brian Cox, Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig as other small characters. Other notable small roles include May Lindstrom as a pregnant TV star Theodore fantasizes about, Portia Doubleday as a woman Samantha hires to pretend to be her, Laura Kai Chen as the girlfriend of Theodore’s receptionist Paul, and Matt Letscher as Amy’s husband Charles who only appears in the first act. Chris Pratt is terrific in a funny performance as Theodore’s receptionist Paul while Olivia Wilde is wonderful as a blind date that Theodore meets which adds to his fear of commitment.
Rooney Mara is excellent in the role of Theodore’s ex-wife Catherine as she mostly appears in flashbacks as this unique presence while she does have an amazing scene where she expresses her frustrations to Theodore over their marriage. Amy Adams is fantastic as Theodore’s friend Amy who is concerned about his loneliness as she later deals with a divorce where she embarks on a friendship with a OS that would help her in her work as a filmmaker and game designer.
The film’s best performances definitely go to Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson in their respective roles as Theodore and Samantha. Phoenix showcases a sense of restraint as well as tenderness in his role as a man lost and in despair over his divorce as he falls for the voice of a machine which just adds to the complexity of his character as it’s Phoenix at his most charming and his most vulnerable. Though she doesn’t appear in the film, Johansson provides a lot of depth and weight to the voice of Samantha as it’s one that is pretty funny as well as very dramatic in her search for meaning and wanting to have a body. Phoenix and Johansson have this chemistry that is indescribable as they put a lot of heart and soul into these characters and this relationship as they really are a huge highlight of the film.
Her is a magnificent film from Spike Jonze that features outstanding performances from Joaquin Phoenix and the voice of Scarlett Johansson. The film is definitely a romantic-comedy that is unlike anything that is expected in the genre while infusing it with a sci-fi setting that makes it unique to express a man’s loneliness. Along with its amazing technical work and the supporting cast that includes Amy Adams, Olivia Wilde, Rooney Mara, and Chris Pratt. It’s a film that also manages to find a soul in the machine that is just as human as humanity itself. In the end, Her is a spectacular film from Spike Jonze.
Spike Jonze Films: Being John Malkovich - Adaptation - Where the Wild Things Are - Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait of Maurice Sendak - My Mutant Brain
Related: The Auteurs #54: Spike Jonze - The 25 Essential Videos of Spike Jonze
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