Thought-provoking, imaginative and entertaining… all describe Spike Jonze’s latest film, “Her.” Written and directed by Jonze, “Her” is a quiet, gentle look at love and relationships in the near future.
Set in an ultra-modern Los Angeles, “Her” stars Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore, a custom letter writer. In the process of divorcing his wife, Catherine (Rooney Mara), Theodore lives a fairly solitary life. He is a lonely guy who’s not really happy in his loneliness. Since his separation, Theodore’s primary friends seem to be Amy (Amy Adams) and her husband, Charles (Matt Letscher). Into this mix enters his newly acquired Operating System, who gives herself the name Samantha (voice of Scarlett Johansson). In this advanced society it is commonplace to have an OS which acts as a companion…customized to meet your needs, be it friend or something more. Samantha is so lively, upbeat and eager to learn that it would be hard not to fall for her in some manner. Theodore is no exception and with her help, he begins to come out of his shell and solitude. But then what?
The future that Jonze presents is a tad depressing. The outdoor scenes feature many people looking at their phones or talking into their phones. It almost makes you think that these shots were choreographed so that none of the extras bumped into one another. The fact that Theodore has such animated conversations with his OS and no one looks at him twice gives me some pause, but our society is pretty much headed in that direction and in Theodore’s LA, it is obviously the norm. Even Theodore’s job—writing letters and e-mails for other people—says something about the depersonalization of the world in which he’s living.
In many ways, “Her” is very reminiscent of “Lars and the Real Girl.” Both male leads have problems socializing and chose to be with inanimate objects over flesh and blood women (what that says about my gender is not necessarily complimentary). A primary difference is that with “Her” the OS is able to talk and carry on a conversation rather than the conversation being one-sided.
The production design, art direction and set decoration by K.K. Barrett, Austin Gorg and Gene Serdena respectively, are amazing. They perfectly convey what a futuristic LA could look like. And the scenes featuring the Alien Child are especially inventive.
However, it is the excellent acting which really makes “Her” special. Joaquin Phoenix is perfectly cast as Theodore. Phoenix is such an interesting actor. He is so wonderful at conveying joy, depression, anger and bewilderment. “Her” requires all of those emotions from him…mostly while talking to a machine…and we believe all of those feelings coming from him. And when he smiles, it just lights up the entire movie.
Is Amy Adams ever bad? As Theodore’s friend, she’s terrific. Even with fairly little makeup and a slightly dowdy wardrobe, she grabs your attention when on-screen and her scenes with Phoenix are a pleasure to watch.
Outstanding in a supporting role is Chris Pratt, as Theodore’s boss and friend, Paul. Pratt has become a very good, reliable supporting comedic character actor and this film is no exception. Rooney Mara is first-rate as Theodore’s soon-to-be-ex. The contrast of her angry, present day scenes with the flashbacks to happier times are really very good. And Olivia Wilde turns in a great, fun performance as one of Theodore’s blind dates.
And what of Scarlett Johansson’s Samantha? Simply put, she is perfect. She gets to use all of her vocal acting chops and she amazes, she is that remarkable. With a voice like that, how could one not fall in love with her? Actress Samantha Morton was originally cast as Samantha’s voice and was replaced after the film’s completion by Johansson. Morton is a fine actress, but it’s truly hard to picture that anyone could be better than Johansson in this role.
“Her,” this quietly imaginative movie, will certainly get you thinking about your own social interactions. You might even wonder what you would do if such a device was available to you. Me, I prefer human beings, but that’s just me. It certainly is interesting to contemplate.