Director: Spike Jonze; Writer: Spike Jonze; Starring: Jaoquin Pheonix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Chris Pratt, Olivia Wilde; Running time: 126 minutes; Certification: 15
Never would I have imagined it possible to care so deeply about a relationship between a man and his phone, but Spike Jonze’s Her, a heartbreaking, joyous, beautiful 21st century love story, has done just that. After finally arriving on these shores after months of adulation and admiration across the pond, Her appears to be seducing us in the same way. Set in a near future where AI has reached a stage capable of creating virtual companions known simply as an “OS”, we focus in on Theodore Twombly, a socially empty hermit whose fallen in and out of love too often with both women and the world in general. After installing his brand new OS, he meets Samantha, a bright, uplifting, super-intelligent operating system who sets him on a path to rediscovering how to love.
When we’ve reached a stage where it seems there’s nothing new to say in a romance film, no original ways to tell a love story, that premise alone should be enough to win over even the most sceptical of viewers. It’s unsurprising that the man behind it is Spike Jonze, a director with a uniquely refreshing vision, who always frames the world through optimistic eyes and provides a delicateness of touch to every subject he approaches (a fact tinted with irony given his Jackass roots). The elegance with which he’s crafted this story is breathtaking. For what could so easily become saccharine and schmaltzy, so vain with its originality that it wants to shout and cram it down our throats, is instead charming, beautiful, delightfully funny and completely enchanting because he cares so deeply about his characters and really wants to understand the relationship that develops between Theodore and Samantha – a care which translates potently to the audience. He then further has an ability to make his films look absolutely stunning; each frame is laced with an opulent, shimmery elegance that arrests us to our seats so we can just sit there and marvel at it. Her may well be, literally, the most beautiful film of the year.
Joaquin Pheonix is brilliant in perhaps his most endearing role to date. After witnessing Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, I think many of us were saying the same thing: thank god he’s still here. If that quitting acting to be a rapper thing had been for real, we would have lost a true great. It’s hard not to find similarities to Bill Murray in Lost In Translation (another unconventional love story with Scarlett Johansson which shares many similarities to Her – not least its originality and tone) in Pheonix’s Theodore; he’s subtle, sympathetic and charming, never crossing the precarious line into mopy and frustrating. We care so much about him after just the opening scene; something in the way he moves, his expressions, the melancholy in his eyes. When he begins his relationship with Samantha, there’s an immediate connection between the two – and there’s an immediate connection between them and us. We want so dearly for him to be happy, and as Samantha grows, for them to be happy together. Scarlett Johansson, appearing only in voice, is a revelation. She breathes life into Samantha, somehow making an AI character who never physically appears so vivid and likeable.
The seminality of Samantha’s being does, of course, raise some interesting questions about AI – questions we would expect to be raised in something like The Terminator, or the more recent RoboCop which I discussed in my review. Yet we’re finding it here woven through the narrative of a love story, which somehow makes it that bit more poignant. The drama explores quite deeply (in fact, it relies on) the evolution of Samantha and her journey to becoming essentially a sentient being – a consciousness, not just a computer, whom Theodore can fall in love with. She perceives the world and learns from it, all the time becoming more intelligent, more aware, more human. I think a part of us falls for her, too, but there’s always that intriguing question of when this technology finally arrives (which probably isn’t too far away), will it be possible to feel for them the same way you would feel for a human?
The futuristic setting is never portrayed too strongly, perhaps so as to keep the drama focused on Theodore’s life rather than a new world with all of these huge technological advancements. The costumes even resemble fashion from somewhere around the 60s (high trousers, lots of buttons), as do the hairstyles. It’s a subtle – perhaps even unconscious – move to somehow bring the reality back, but I think it works.
Her is gorgeous. Smart, sweet, endearing and charmingly funny with a good heart and so much to say. Joaquin Pheonix has rarely been better, Spike Jonze has rarely been better, a love story has rarely been better.