Spike Jonze is back with Her, a unique love story that is very much in the same vein as his previous films. Starring a host of young talent – including Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara and Scarlett Johansson – and thanks to an incredible trailer set to Arcade Fire, Her has become one of the most anticipated films of 2013.
Her follows the day to day life of Theodore, a shy and quiet man struggling to deal with his divorce and trying to find connections wherever he can. Theodore eventually stumbles across a brand new operating system called OS1, which has its own artificial intelligence; curious he purchases it and sets it up. Instantaneously Theodore starts to find his life richer and more interesting thanks to his new OS1, named Samantha, which encourages him to explore the world, challenges him in intellectual thinking and becomes the source of his love.
Firstly the cast, the whole film is built around Joaquin Phoenix. Every other actor in Her is a bit player in the life of Theodore. Phoenix shines in what has to be his “softest” role to date. I was completely caught off guard by his performance, as I’m use to seeing him play such intense and hard roles. Phoenix is utterly charming and his doe-eyed cuteness is affecting and heart-warming. If he doesn’t get any attention this awards season than the awards season is an absolute joke. The supporting cast are also great. Scarlett Johansson’s voice work is phenomenal, even if she is slightly miscast. Amy Adams is relegated to being the films motivational speaker, but her scenes with Phoenix are very touching and it makes you yearn to see a rom-com between the two. Rooney Mara is sadly playing on the sidelines, mostly appearing in dialogue-less montages and only getting one real chance to act – which she nails.
When it comes to direction, Jonze’s is sometimes too aloof and has a tendency to turn a scene into a music video and he pads the length with a lot of montages. However, his production choices greatly help tell the story and are a massive highlight. The colour palette especially is wonderful, filled with glorious warm colours it incloses in on the audience and makes you feel calm and relaxed. This is assisted by the cinematography, which at times looks like a Malick film. It makes the film inviting, and encourages the viewer to get completely lost in the film.
Whilst everything from performances to production are universally great, I had one personal issue I couldn’t overlook. Samantha would be great if the viewer was given the chance to conjure their own vision of her. Instead by having such a recognisable and distinct voice, the viewer instantly pictures Scarlett Johansson and this took me out of the relationship. It may seem minor, but for me it turned what should have been heart-wrenching scenes into nothing. I had no investment in the relationship. I feel the film would have been better served with a no-name or uncredited actress voicing the character. The film still moved me, and I still loved Theodore, but his relationship didn’t hit like it should have.
I thoroughly enjoyed Her. The film is very touching, and those that can attach to the relationships will get a great amount out of the film. Jonze also fills his film with humour, some of it abrupt (like the video-games), some of it very human and cute. Either way it makes you giggle constantly. The performance of Phoenix though is the real reason to see the film, he gives one of the best performances of the year. He’ll resonate with almost everybody that sees his grounded and heart-warming performance and he deserves a ton of awards recognition. Whilst I didn’t get as absorbed as I’d like, Her is still a really good film.