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Film Review: HER

Her 1HER

Written and directed by Spike Jonze
Director of photography, Hoyte van Hoytema
Edited by Eric Zumbrunnen and Jeff Buchanan
Music by Arcade Fire and Owen Pallett
Production design by K. K. Barrett
Costumes by Casey Storm
Produced by Mr. Jonze, Megan Ellison, Vincent Landay and Daniel Lupi
Distribution by Warner Bros. Pictures.
Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes.
Principle Cast: Joaquin Phoenix (Theodore), Scarlett Johansson (Samantha), Amy Adams (Amy), Rooney Mara (Catherine), Chris Pratt (Paul) and Olivia Wilde (Blind Date).

Her is a tender film that questions the many topics of true humanistic connection without compromise and the result is beautifully simple.

When Siri was created for Apple back in 2011, it was only a matter of time for the populous to catch on. Now, a shy under 3 years later, the World of Artificial Intelligence is officially here  – along with all of the various issues and conveniences that it brings. Of course there are millions of apps, appointments & ways that one can use with this wonderful new technology but it also begs the question if we will ultimately use this power to our advantage, if it will be a curse and how can it connect us all better.

On any given day, Youtube offers a person thousands of  amateurs who have vertically captured & sloppily edited videos which run the gamut of everything from humor to sheer anger towards that signature female voice coming from within iPhones – most of which are  aiming to be the next online meme to capture mere seconds s of attention in the passing time continuum of the vast internet. So how would a director of finer filmmaking tackle the topic of this budding technology which seemed out of reach just a few years ago, and what kind of lasting mark would he/she like to leave the rest of us as a statement on the moment? For Director Spike Jonze, the formidable creative mind behind such thematic and stunning work as Where the Wild Things Are, Being John Malkovich and loads of great music videos for bands like The Beastie Boys and Bjork, the message isn’t about artificiality & science, its about the experience of human touch and it feels beautiful.

Her 3Staring as Theodore Twombly, a divorced ex-LA Weekly writer, now stationed at BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com, Joaquin Phoenix plays a man who has a rather bland and banal life. Each day its up to work & home for relaxation – day in and day out – with the occasional video game or stint of shopping at the local mall to break the “excitement” up.  When his days begin to drag on and his life longs for something more, Twombly reaches out for the newest & most popular computer operating systems to try and illicit excitement, only to find something truly surprising in love & companionship.

Truth, when the first thoughts of hearing that a story about a man falling in love with his computer started to arise in the film community, I have to admit it was something of an arousing idea – then followed up with laden guilty-pleasure secretiveness. Even with the most conceptually solid and deepest sincerity that most filmmakers have, the general idea for these types of films are going to go two ways – a darkened, nerdy World that most people can’t connect with and will re-amplify what most think of the Sci-Fi community, or something shallow and immature that will suit the teen crowd and garner some box office buzz. So upon hearing that Spike Jonze was to take the helm and direct the wonderful Phoenix (prime off his turn in last year’s The Master), my ears were perked, palms tingly & my feet were primed at the box office with wallet out, eagerly waiting (like Phoenix’s Twombly watching his downloading status bar) ready to buy a ticket.

her 2Coming from a writing background as a collaborator on Dirt Magazine & with his last script contribution being Where the Wild Things Are, it’s obvious that Jonze knows how to craft not only a wonderfully appealing story but one that will capture beautiful imagery. With Her, Jonze starts out with the smartest move yet, taking a setting that is grounded in current reality & that everyone can identify with and moving it away from his audience. We get the connections & the meanings of the World of Her without the clumsy exposition, suspension of disbelief or visual trickery. With this in mind, it doesn’t take any time at all for one to then accept that everything that is to follow, and frankly, if you don’t believe the creation here on screen in the first thirty seconds, just wait.

In this case, the normal Hollywood aesthetic of Los Angeles, a city of a million dreams and a lot of plastic, is somewhat (like our hero) divorced of itself where people have settled into accepting that technology is a true part of all of their lives & where we ignore the true connections of those around us by focusing out everything else that isn’t coming from a small compact item in our pocket; its like today, only…more apathetic and oblivious – if that’s even possible. In that conceit, Her’s story doesn’t have to be brassy and big, it doesn’t need a villain or something exterior to make for dramatic effect – Jonze is focusing in our own selves and those we keep around us, not the corporation that may be offering the items that keep us from connecting. Her’s focus is on one of the heart and manages to keep you guessing to just how far things will progress when you somewhat know the outcome in terms of actualities and conclusions.  Occasionally, we veer from the main event of Sam & Theodore through side narratives that help keep the World moving, but they also offer an interesting juxtaposition to those from our principle lovers and beg some additional deep questions on relationships and how messy things in real life can be. As a whole, Her a simple story and to some that may be seen as a shortcoming of artistic merit but for a character and human experience piece, its exactly what is needed.

Interestingly enough, for a director whose recognition & strength as an offbeat writer lies more in minimalism, this feature (which is Jonze’s first that the filmmaker completely wrote & directed himself)  shows the widest range of on-screen dialogue; for a film that is about human connections to each other, technology and how we intersect the two – Jonze has provided something ripe with depths for immense exploration.

Phoenix is touching here – revitalized and touching – point blank. Watching the actor work on screen for Jonze is both inspiring and simply astonishing to watch, esp. given the actor’s scare during his ISH days back in 2010, and knowing that Scarlett Johansson was not the original voice with which our lead actor is reacting to. Her’s focus is 95% of the time on Phoenix’s face as he dispels the vulnerabilities and nuances of a simple man with simple issues & the result is purely heart-rending and only matched by the offscreen counterpart, of which, from the moment you hear her brilliant and soft whisper emanate from the phone’s speaker – Scarlett Johansson as the operating system known as Sam & is Sam 100%. The actress isn’t something that can be see or felt – she’s pure intelligence and programmed with personality traits & behavior – the actress brings every single emotive note required. While it has been reported that the original actress to portray Samantha was, in fact Samantha Morton, after viewing Her one can feel that it was inescapable for Johansson to play the AI role given her vocal background and expansive lyrical qualities that evoke both a deep sootiness, and iconic physical imagery; the role take-over simply plays that much more impactful given the inevitable storyline of this film that is unveiled in the third act.

Overall, the film is a bit unusual in its own way and just interesting enough that nothing ever seems outrageously unbelievable, but just enough to capture surprise & engagement. Production designer, K.K. Barrett hasn’t so much as thought up a completely different time and place to believe in, but simply adorned a future Los Angeles setting with additional humilities in sights, sounds and things to something simply pleasant to experience, while Hoyte Van Hoytema’s photography sets a soft-hued monochromatic stylize to the entire film that is ripe for future wedding themes and Instagram photos for years to come. Costumer designs from Casey Storm has been so successful that one leaves the theater to immediately try and pick up a pair of the shoes from Phoenix wardrobe or hope that high-waisted pants will actually be back in fashion come next Fall. Without a doubt Her is a collectively creative masterpiece that is entrenched in subtly, tenderness & a warm glow. Themes of love, technology & human connection make this a film that transcends the run-of-the-mill Hollywood version of Sci-Fi to a true love story that is vast in ambition.

For those who have already accepted that Her is the best film of the year, good for you – lets bathe in Jonze’s World as long as we can. For those who haven’t accepted this fact, just remember how long it took for you to buy into the hype of the iPhone originally – and now, go back to playing Candy Crush while Siri reads you the sports scores from last night & finds you tickets for your venture into finding true love – a second viewing of Her.

Fresh Roasted Rating: A

~ Matt Miles, 24/7 Contributor
Producer of Fresh Roasted Films

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