US | 2013 | Directed by Spike Jonze
Logline: A lonely professional love letter writer falls in love with his new artificially intelligent computer operating system.
There’s something to be said about watching a movie you know next to nothing about. The only information I had gleaned going into this com-rom (that’s comedic romance, rather than romantic comedy, and the comedy is on humour’s darker side) was Joaquin Phoenix was starring and Spike Jonze directed it. I hadn’t watched a trailer, certainly hadn’t read any reviews, and, thankfully, hadn’t conversed with anyone who had seen it and unintentionally blurted out spoilers.
Her is a movie that is rapidly finding its way onto critics’ best of the year lists. And it’s still only January. Her is a movie that is bound to appeal to the same demographic that loved Gravity, bridging across a divide between offbeat love story, and hip futuristic trends of technology and social media culture. I can’t help but feel slightly irked that I’m not in a minority, but that’s just the way I roll. Gravity didn’t do it for me the way it did for the majority, but Her has rubbed me up in all the right ways.
Enough of the rambling critic idiosyncrasies, let’s get down to silicon tacks. Her is the best movie of Spike Jonze’s career. Jonze's first feature, Being John Malkovich, was a superb black comedy; surreal, novel, and endearing, but Her is his crowning achievement in terms of direction. He also wrote the screenplay, and it’s a brilliant study of love’s fondness and love’s fickleness. Her is, quite simply, a wonderful tale of melancholy.
Set in a not-too-distant future in a Los Angelefiles that looks more Asian than American (exterior city scenes were shot in Shanghai) it tells the story of Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a man dealing quietly with the break-up of his marriage with Catherine (Rooney Mara). By day he writes professional love letters for those who haven’t the heart or wit. By night he yearns for intimacy with a woman.
Cue: Samantha. OS One. A brand new operating system that is the first artificially intelligent software designed to really get to know its owner/user, and service their every desire. In this case, Theodore’s aching heart. Within days of installing her Theo has fallen for the husky-voiced Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). And who wouldn’t? She sounds sexy, and she’s smart and funny and imaginative and provocative. The only thing missing is … a body. But Theo doesn’t mind.
It’s only going to end in tears.
Joaquin delivers a finely nuanced performance, and his support cast, along with the atmospheric cinematography, help construct a terrific platform; Amy Adams, in her daggiest, but most endearing role to date, as Theo’s neighbour Amy, and Olivia Wilde as a blind date. Although she doesn’t have much screen time, Rooney Mara is once again a scene-stealer (those Mara sisters are something else!), but it’s Scarlet Johnasson that commands every scene her dulcet tones emit from.
Her is one of those delicate movies on a balancing act. The premise alone is one that many will scoff or guffaw at, and yet, there is a remarkable astuteness to Jonze’s portrait of our very likely future. Artificial intelligence is not to be taken lightly, and whilst Her floats on a poetic cyber-feather, there is an inherent sadness that, like an emotional weight, steadily brings it down to earth. The final scene is both uplifting and heartbreaking at the same time.
And yes, I too will be bold enough to state that Her is definitely in my year’s top ten favourite movies. And it’s not even February.