Director: Spike Jonze
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde
Plot: Theodore Twombly (Phoenix) is a broken man, going through a divorce. Cautious of human contact, he becomes reliant on his new Operating System, a computer so advanced, he begins falling in love with it.
Round of applause, Scarlett Johansson. You can tell that you are one of the most loved actresses around, when you can make cinemas across the world full of people fall in love with you, without physically being on screen.
Out of all of the OSCAR nominated movies released in 2014 rather than 2013, Her is the one that has impressed me the most. Spike Jonze obviously has come up with a complex story about human emotions and the question of existence, and he uses this movie to lovingly recreate this vision for the audience. His direction and script are superb, working so well together. When I consider what movie I think deserves the OSCAR, I like to be reminded that cinema is a form of art. While Wolf of Wall Street seems to be impressing people the most with some powerhouse performances, I think Jonze’s movie feels more like a work of art. He uses this two hour feature film to paint a picture, where he gives his characters room to perform and impress us as an audience. The words he writes and the cinematography he uses all work so well. I kept seeing single frames I wanted to discuss, because there was so much imagery and information packed into that one camera angle, but there were far too many to choose from. A broken Theodore being grabbed by a holographic bird of prey on an advertisement behind him. Theodore getting hit with a final revelation halfway up a flight of stairs, surrounded by nameless people. Again, Spike Jonze has a real eye for direction that adds to this idea that cinema is a form of art.
But don’t let my artistic ramblings make you think of this film as a pretentious art-house piece, because it totally works as a story on its own back. Sure, Her works as a look at how dependent humans are on machines and technology. It asks deep questions like what counts as consciousness or a real person. But, at the same time, Spike Jonze isn’t necessarily bothered about you picking up on every detail on a first watch. I am sure that I will watch this a second time and fully throw myself into the deeper meaning behind certain shots and character arcs. Her certainly demands multiple viewings. However, for that first, initial watch, you just relax and throw yourself into a beautiful love story. And while the idea of the lead character falling in love with an Operating System sounds absurd at first, it is the casual nature of a script that keeps the story rooted. We totally believe that he is in love with the machine; in fact, it is likely that you develop a crush on Scarlett Johansson’s computer consciousness before he does. I was amazed at how well the romance is written. Jonze does not shove his themes and morals down our throat, rather he just creates the universe he wants to and gives us a story around his vision. The bigger messages are there, but if you just want to go and see a love story on Valentine’s Day, Her is also perfectly suited for that also.
The performances are great. For a movie that relies largely on a script, it needs the actors to be at their A Game. Joaquin Phoenix does not disappoint. I have only ever seen the actor in his larger than life roles, so I was pleasantly surprised that he handled ordinary so well. Theodore is a tough character to get right, because he is a man built upon bad decisions. He is broken by his divorce and desperate when it comes to getting past his crippling loneliness. We see him finding solace in phone sex (a terrifically funny duologue about a dead cat being incorporated into the bedroom antics), turning down a night of passion with a gorgeous Olivia Wilde and, of course, falling in love with a laptop, despite being surrounded by a cast of the most beautiful women in Hollywood right now. On paper, that is a man we will struggle to relate to. However, Jonze’s script and Phoenix’s performance keeps us invested in the character and when he gets caught up in this whirlwind romance, we are totally there with him in his total happiness. The rest of the cast are also on form, although Jonze keeps the focus away from them and onto the core relationship. While I agree with this directorial choice, I must admit that it does seem a shame that a talented Amy Adams and Rooney Mara are slightly wasted.
However, the star of the show is without doubt, Scarlett Johansson. She is outstanding. From the moment, we first meet her soothing, likeable voice flowing into Theodore’s life, we are captivated. It is the role of a lifetime for the actress: a new form of existence, constantly pushing the boundaries of her programs and learning all the time. It is always beautiful to just watch the operating system, Samantha, react to a sudden new emotion. Her cool professionalism always being slightly swayed by her inexperience with these sudden feelings of love or awkwardness. The biggest crime of this movie is that moment when you realise that Johansson isn’t eligible for an OSCAR nomination here, because she doesn’t actually appear on screen. It is such a fantastic performance that it really does deserve praise, but sadly, there will not be an award waiting for her. It is another hint that the OSCARs are slightly outdated and need some serious tweaks, before we get a worthy depiction of modern cinema.
Final Verdict: Her deserves every nomination thrown its way, Spike Jonze delivering a moving romance with deeper meaning in almost every frame.