Before you read this, leonth3duke has a great review for “Her” up as well. Please check it out. It’s a great take on a sweet film.
Technology changes the way we communicate with each other. In a city like New York – well, everywhere, I’d imagine – there are individuals walking around with phones and pads, caught up more in their devices than in the people around them. At dinner tables, you may catch whole groups of people seated that are “checking in”, rather than directly communicating. I myself have done that quite a bit. All of these gadgets give us the ability to connect to tons of people, but at the same time there’s this potential for isolation and/or distance. Are we really connecting deeply with anyone or are people just fitting the bill just to kill off the loneliness?
Spike Jonze’s “Her” doesn’t argue whether or not we should be so digitally social, but it does present the audience with examples of the ways we may reach for connections these days. It’s both beautiful, weird and somewhat eerily familiar.
“Her” focuses on Theodore Twombley (Joaquin Phoenix), who works as a letter writer. Though at his job, he creates heartfelt letters for others, in his interactions outside of that he’s somewhat withdrawn (or he’s simply reserved with his words). He’s in the middle of a divorce with his wife (Rooney Mara), and more or less keeps to himself. One day, he decides to pick up a new OS for his computer with an advanced AI. This is how Samantha (Scarlett Johannson) comes into the picture. She helps to organize his day to day tasks and as she’s curious about the world, Theodore explains what he can. As crazy as it sounds, it grows into something more.
The movie was originally done with Samantha Morton (Cosmopolis) as Samantha, but supposedly Jonze felt something was off during the editing and post production. They talked it over and Morton stepped down. There’s nothing at all wrong with Scarlett’s take – it’s sad that she can’t be acknowledged for her performance because of rules – but there’s a part of me that hopes that in the video version there’s a behind the scenes showing what Samantha Morton’s version of the role turned out. I think it would be pretty interesting to see.
Johannson does a wonderful job considering that it’s just her voice. From a bright “hello” to a whispered “Hey.”, as Samantha grows, you can catch subtle changes in her demeanor. Granted, one can say it’s easy to do a voice over, but one only has to look at Julia Roberts’ performance in Charlotte’s Web to know the difference between talking out your lines, and actually conveying them with feeling.
For someone who has to work with a character they can’t see or interact with directly, Phoenix is great here. Coming off of The Master, the role is a complete turn around. He’s the anchor of the film and through him we see all the joys and pains. He conveys this weird sense of curiosity about the world that masks a deeper pain. I rubbed my chin a number of times during this, amazed at how much of myself I saw in the character of Theodore. It was a little jarring, actually. Also coming off The Master is Amy Adams, whose role here reminded me of a guest starring role she had on the tv show “Charmed”. Playing Theodore’s friend Amy, she acts as a sounding board for Theodore. I have yet to see American Hustle, but I liked her here and personally thought she did far better in this film than she did in Man of Steel.
Overall the casting for “Her” is good. Matt Lescher (The Mask of Zorro) has a humorous part as Amy’s husband. Even Rooney Mara comes across well as Theodore’s wife. Other casting choices include Kristen Wiig (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty), Portia Doubleday (Carrie), and Olivia Wilde (Rush).
Cinematographer Hoyt Van Hoytema (The Fighter, Inside Llewyn Davis) and Jonze created a near future that isn’t terribly distant from where we are now. It’s bright, sunny, extremely clean in the daytime scenes. The nights are so well lit that it first reminded me of Roger Deakin’s Shanghai sequences in Skyfall. It’s almost a cozy future. Interfaces with computers are more direct and even funny at times. This is something you’ll notice right from the start. Everyone’s appearance, however, seems a bit frumpy. It’s like everyone just grabbed the first thing in their closet and said “You know what, I’ll go with it.” It caused a bit of a laughter from the audience mostly, which could pull from the story, but it’s hardly unlikely.
The theme of “Her” is loneliness, or at least that’s what I took from it. It was of people looking to connect. Some succeed on different levels, some don’t but there’s a longing there. It comes through as clearly in “Her” as it can, and it’s one of the elements I really enjoyed about the movie. Some of the conversations in the film are deep, those ones you have after you move past all of the small talk about the weather. Sometimes harsh, painful truths come out. At other times, it’s just subtle realizations being voiced.
After the film, I’ve found I’ve spent a little more time interacting with others face to face – something I don’t normally do. I normally don’t feel lonely because there things I can do. Ride my motorcycle, go to the movies, write something. With this, however, it was like someone filmed me, cleaned up the story and presented it better. Though I am somewhat introverted, I also suffer from abandonment issues, and tend not to form too many close friendships of a fear of losing them. I recognized that I do have more moments of loneliness than I ever really noticed before. For me, “Her” is one the best films I’ve seen this year simply because (like “12 Years a Slave”) it felt like it spoke to me directly. It’s humorous in many places, sad in others, but at the end of it all, I left the theatre thinking about the movie and experiencing emotions I hadn’t expected to.
And sometimes, that’s enough to consider a film great. I’m eager to see this again.