“Falling in love is kind of like a form of socially acceptable insanity.”
*This review may contain spoilers*
Her is a Sci-Fi Romance written and directed by Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Where the Wild Things Are), starring Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson and Amy Adams. During the ongoing heartbreak of divorce, Theodore (Phoenix) wanders a lonely, near future LA as a depressed introvert, until he begins a romantic relationship with his new state of the art Operating System named Samantha.
Foolishly, I took one look at director Jonze’s filmography and Phoenix’s suspicious moustache and predetermined Her to be an overly artsy satire on our relationship with modern technology. Where there is a satirical element that could be drawn from the film, I could not have been more wrong, as Her immediately drew me in with its overall melancholy tone, dotted with bold visuals and warming dialogue. A beautiful score by Arcade Fire plays a prominent part in delivering this sweet yet subtlety sorrowful tone, which was rightfully nominated for Best Original Score at the 2014 Academy Awards. I also cannot fault the cinematography, from Theodore’s colourful wardrobe popping in comparison to his bleak background, to fantastic editing between flashbacks of his marriage and his current depressed state, Her is one of those films where everything on screen has purpose. Even at a micro level, regularly seeing Theodore in focus but the city behind out of focus subconsciously conveyed that he did not fit in, which left far more room in the script to work on the points that matter, notably the relationships.
At its core, Her attempts to create a legitimately believable love story between Theodore and Samantha, which is made especially challenging as half of the relationship isn’t on-screen. It goes without saying, but Phoenix plays another role to perfection, walking a tough line between sombre, sweet and socially awkward, which could have easily trodden into creepy. Theodore shares relatable struggles with tasks that bring him instant gratification, such as video games, pornography and his self-isolation, but regular reminders that he wasn’t always this tragic keeps us invested in his liberation, which comes in the form of his relationship to Samantha. Combined with Johansson’s seductive, playful and authentic voice acting, Theodore’s conversations with Samantha are incredibly heart-warming, with Phoenix doing much of the physical heavy lifting in his reactions to her dialogue.
Especially given that Johansson was a post-production replacement for actress Samantha Morton, I was utterly convinced in her superb line delivery, to a level of mastery that had me forgetting she was artificial intelligence! This believability is also partly due to a passionate, Oscar winning screenplay, which demonstrates a deep respect for Samantha by integrating her slowly compounding character construction with layers of human emotion such as humour, jealously and ambition. In comparison, my favourite aspect of the sequel Blade Runner 2049 was its ability to make me empathise with a relationship between a robot and an A.I., in which Her dedicates an entire movie to building this bizarre dynamic to equal (if not greater) success.
If, in the unlikely scenario, the viewer isn’t engaged with this relationship, Her might prove a difficult movie to sit through, given that the entire story is a dedicated deep dive into Theodores evolving relationship with Samantha. There are little to no sub plots or diversions away from the two’s conversations, with a lot of the extended screen time focusing solely on their charming, everyday discussions or Phoenix’s reactions to Samantha’s complex and growing personality. However, the dialogue remains largely engaging and the moments where Theodore interacts with physical characters were made even more poignant by the loneliness of the general screen. The supporting cast do an excellent job in maintaining our attention, with each scene opposite Amy Adams pulling me back into the story and a tonally contrasting scene presenting Olivia Wilde’s outside and unbiased perspective on Theodore rooted me in my sympathy for his character. I admittedly found myself drifting away from conversation into appreciation of the stunning visuals towards the end of the film, which had me rewinding some scenes to fully take in the dialogue.
Her is a deep and thought-provoking approach to the romance genre, taking a simple idea and expanding on it in every direction. Combining complex characters you can empathise with and a script that will make you smile (if not glow!), Her understands exactly what emotions it wants to convey and does it calmly with a mastery of cinematography, editing and it’s beautiful soundtrack. Where I wasn’t overly excited simply watching the story, contemplating the films themes and emotional resonance gives me a remarkable need to re-watch Her with someone I can profoundly explore it with. I give Her an 8/10!
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*This review was suggested by follower Sam Turner via Twitter