By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, Chris Pratt, and Scarlett Johannson.
There might not be a more likely candidate to make a film about the perseverance of our modernism and leniency toward social media & its effect on already lonesome individuals than Spike Jonze. A man who made an early career out of 90s defining videos (and introduced us to the fact that the image of a dancing Christopher Walken could be fun), he has been at the forefront of great films such as Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. So it would only seem fit he take on the subject of a sort of love story told from one point of view. Again, who better? Well when the result is Her, the answer to that question is no one. Her is a very funny and moving portrait of our modern culture, I walked out of Her with a more prudent sense of where I stand with human contact than I can ever remember. The fact that it’s this good is even more illogical when thinking about the fact that Jonze saw fit to cast one of our modern-day sought after scarlets (Johansonn) in a role where we never see her. Yet she couldn’t be more fitting and, in a lot of ways, is more cutting edge here than she’s ever been.
Don’t jump to any conclusions, however. Her is a mostly one man show. Phoenix, having finally ditched his recent persona of a rapper trapped in an actor’s body and one year removed from his critically praised but highly overrated performance in The Master, is unbelievably great here in the role of Theodore Twombly, a man who is trying his best to get over the break-up with his recent wife (Mara.) This is an interesting story point to me as Jonze (who also wrote Her‘s incredibly dense script) is almost ten years removed from divorcing Sofia Coppolla. Is Mara speaking her words when she says that he “threw away a great thing and is now in love with his laptop?” Given how Theo is looked upon as a victim by everyone but his ex-wife, this may be more true than we know. Now, there are few more polarizing storylines in the world of cinema than one involving someone who has a relationship with an inanimate object. You can get an endearingly satirical story such as the excellent Lars and the Real Girl. Or you can get a painful to the eyes and ears Al Pacino starring Simone (remember that one?) What Jonze does with Her’s object of choice (named Samantha) is probably the most interesting of all. Nonetheless, Phoenix has never been more charming, as his early yuks-filled exchanges at work one particular conversation about how many words rhyme with Penelope was a huge highlight for me) do their job of endearing us to him, which is very important given where the story goes. Though there are instances and scenes such as when his going on dates with an earpiece bit involving walks on the beach are done with obviously gritted teeth. However, I had a more than hearty laugh when Theo and Samantha vocally tear down couples to themselves while walking through a mall. It is a funny bit that at the same time makes us more than aware of just how resentful Theo (and presumably Jonze himself) is to the public.
Her, if you haven’t figured it out already, is a mighty improvement over Jonze’s last film, his adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. My big problem with that film is that it seemed like it wanted to be both an adult film and child’s fable at the same time. Here, I would venture to say that Jonze is perhaps better than he’s ever been, as his later career of crafting films about the fear of human interaction has never been put to better use. Powerful moments such as Theo telling Samantha “sometimes I think I’ve felt everything I’m going to feel” end up being even more powerful when later on, Samantha, through Johansonn’s raspy voice, says, “I’m becoming much more than what they programmed.” Does that mean Theo is being programmed himself? It’s a question explored with such a soft stroke that I cannot classify this counter intuitiveness displayed by Jonze as anything less than brilliant.
Her is much more than a dissection of loneliness. It is a film full of heart and hearty laughs. The fact that Samantha gaining a consciousness causes Theo to push her away is a telling imprint and observation of this day and age. Of course, this being a Spike Jonze film, the ending is not wrapped up tightly with a bow nor do any characters live happily ever after. But that is part of the joy I experienced watching it. The film made me feel numb with unanswered questions about the human psyche, and how humans have spent a big part of my generation figuring out how to avoid each other at all costs. Yet the film is full of great performances by Phoenix, Adams (whose neighbor role I never mentioned, yet has quite an impact on Her‘s story), and, of course, Johansonn. An increasingly daring actress, it feels like Jonze wants us to praise her the most just to make his point. Not going to happen, Spike. Everyone involved with Her deserves the highest amount of praise possible.