This review contains no spoilers, cause this film is just that worth it.
For once, I saw a film before it’s wide release, “Her”, Spike Jonze’s new film about Theo, a bright but lonely man who falls in love with his operating system, Samantha.
It’s every bit as artsy and smug as it sounds… and I love this movie. It’s superior to what I expected, because even though I was excited to see a film with this premise, I expected it to be fairly self-indulgent like Wild Things, but despite the fact that this film is far more independent than Where the Wild Things Are, Jonze is actually restrained here. He told his story in a way that more people could understand it. Unlike Refn and his latest ego trip.
The camerawork is excellent, with lots of beautiful shots, like city exteriors, the inside of beautiful buildings, and the beach. Jonze clearly has a gift for the visual, and he, as he often does, shows it off to great effect.
The actors are excellent as well. Joaquin Phoenix give a performance that might deserve some kind of award nomination. He sold everything that Spike Jonze was trying to get across, when the character was sad about his life and lack of company, you saw him sad, when the character was happy with Samantha, you felt his joy. When he was enjoying video games, the movie and acting made sure it was as if you were in the room with him. This role and performance is so immersive that it can make people forget the other roles he played, like in Gladiator.
The other performance that is great is Scarlett Johansson as Samantha, the Intelligent Operating System Theo falls in love with. Honestly, I was initially kind of resistant to the idea of a celebrity voice actress like every wide released animated film does, but honestly, Scarlett is amazing in this role. She emotes without having to be seen by the audience, and it’s stunningly effective and selling Theo’s descent into that “socially accepted insanity” that is love. Her likeability is the key to enjoying the film, since the film really wants the audience to connect with Theo, and I find that Scarlett pulled it off. Hey, Scarlett, I think you have the option of taking the Mark Hamill route and become a prestigious voice actress as well as a physical one.
Every other performance was decent, but none of them were really important enough to the story to have that big an impact except Amy Adams (who plays Theo’s supportive friend), and she does well, but is overshadowed by Phoenix and Johansson. The story is about those two, and the film makes sure that part of the struggle. In fact, when others are introduced between their love for each other, that is where the strain comes from, you know, like a real modern relationship.
The film also is a dramedy, part comedy, part drama. This film makes a deliberate effort to not have mood whiplash as well. The funny parts are good, not particularly witty, but they are really funny (albeit, some are kind of dark). The dramatic parts are dramatic. These two things need to be separated, unless you’re leaning more towards comedy, like Kick-Ass 1, and how Mark Strong’s character brought so much tone whiplash that his presence in the film was funny. This film lets us have funny moments, and lets us have dramatic moments, and they do feel like parts of the same film. There is a comic relief video game character that thankfully stays absent from the scenes where Theo and Samantha are having issues. This really isn’t supposed to be a big deal, but many films try to mesh the comic relief with the drama far too much (hello Pirates films). Life and relationships have ups and downs, and this film captures that. I guess one can complain that the comedy’s wittiness level doesn’t match the “deep” (read: pretentious) looks and figurative talks the characters have about love and the idea of loving an AI.
The pacing is interesting as well. When Theo is happy, the pace is fast and easy, when Theo is sad, the pace slows down to a crawl. It reflects that when a person is with someone they love, time flies. Everything becomes simple, and when things get complicated, its hard to get through them. It’s very interesting, and the film’s 2 hour runtime feels like it adds up to a little over 2 hours, but with a pace that keeps on changing.
I realize this film is very Oscar bait-y. I realize that this film is pretty arthouse. I realize that it has that awesome Arcade Fire soundtrack to appeal to hipster crowds, but despite these little things that can get on my nerves, it can’t make me overlook that this is a film with a lot of love put into it by everyone. I can see the passion for cinema and the soul put into this, and I appreciate at. It doesn’t feel like Spike Jonze only motivation was to win awards.
Honestly, this film shares quite a bit with another film I saw recently, “(500) Days of Summer”. Both are about modern relationships, and aims to portray the thought processes of people in love very realistically (They’re also indie films that are hella hipstery, but whatever). Both moved me to near the point of tears (yeah, I’m a pansy, I know), but Her was the more emotional, smarter, sweeter, and more beautiful of the films.
I haven’t seen American Hustle, The Wolf of Wall Street, or many other films this year, but right now, I think Her is one of my favorite films of the year. When it comes to a theater near you (or if it already is), go watch it.