Movie Review #755
Directed by Spike Jonze. Written by Spike Jonze. Produced by Megan Ellison, Spike Jonze, and Vincent Landay for Annapurna Pictures. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Chris Pratt, Rooney Mara, Amy Adams, Olivia Wilde, and the voice of Scarlett Johansson. Credited voice cameos: Kristen Wiig, Adam Spiegel, Brian Cox. Premiered at New York Film Festival on October 12, 2013; at Hamptons International Film Festival on October 13, 2013; at Rome Film Festival on November 11, 2013; and at AFI Fest on November 13, 2013. Distributed by Warner Bros. in limited release on December 18, 2013, and in wide release on January 10, 2014. Rated R: language, sexual content and brief graphic nudity. Runs 126 minutes.
“Her” is an outstanding, brilliant, radiant tragicomedy of a modern movie. It’s accessible because it concerns an everyman. He’s also in the everyman situation, or two at once, as he is dealing with both divorce and finding new love. But it’s also a very intriguing film, because “Her” deals with those scenarios on a much different level.
While the movie sounds extremely offbeat, Spike Jonze’s screenplay in fact handles the tale naturally. Maybe the premise of a man falling in love with technology seems like the 21st century answer to a Peter Sellers movie. But in this case, it’s not, because this is more than that basic premise. Entering stage left in a “not-so-distant future” opus is Theodore Twombley (Joaquin Phoenix), a very lonely man who has separated from his wife about a year ago, and still can’t stop thinking about how much he misses her. It’s on a particularly normal day that Theodore winds up discovering OS1, an operating system that is advanced enough to make Siri seem like a caveman’s idea of technology. He is skeptical of the product, but he soon discovers a powerful connection between himself and the operating system, who goes by Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). He eventually falls in love with her.
The movie has a message. You don’t have to appear human to function as would a human. Samantha is as much a human as Theodore is. It’s often the magnified sense of perception they share that brings them together, and Theodore has natural conversations with her. Spike Jonze’s screenplay is a work of magnificent poetry. He humanizes Samantha so effectively that we could often forget who Theodore is conversing with; it’s as if he’s chatting on the phone with his girlfriend, and in a way, he is. At first, the relationship between Theodore and Samantha does come across as awkward, but by the end, tears are shed.
And as if there’s some requirement for me to say it, Scarlett Johansson is a goddess. I’m aware that we all know this innately, but in the role of Samantha, Scarlett’s a home-run as if without trying. At first, her voice sounds just like a default computer voice, but we can hear her voice gaining life as her spirit and personality develops. Johansson’s delivery of Samantha is easily the most dynamic voice performance since Frank Oz first portrayed Yoda. And she does bear some resemblance to the Star Wars character: Samantha is affectionately Theodore’s girlfriend, but perhaps even more his mentor.
There’s two scenes I’d like to specifically mention in “Her”, for the traditional sake of saving what’s best for last. One is the scene featuring “The Moon Song”. This is performed by Karen O, who in her solo career has been a collaborator with Spike Jonze since 2005. However I can’t imagine that she’s done any work much better than this. Especially in the context of the scene, “The Moon Song” glows. There’s another greatly artistic scene. In this instance, Spike Jonze holds a closeup of Theodore, then cuts entirely to black. The voices of Theodore and Samantha continue conversing, and it’s as if during this frame of time, Jonze is decidedly transforming Samantha from a machine into a human being. He does it throughout the script, but most clearly here. When we fade away from the pitch black, we open to a view of the city of San Francisco. It’s as if we’re seeing all of humanity from her eyes. ✴
– Alexander Diminiano