The average romance film is not very special. In fact, they maybe come in just three varieties; the manic pixie dream, star-crossed love or pure accident. What I’m saying is, if you’ve seen ‘Titanic’, ‘Garden State’ and any adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, you can switch to action films.
And that would be true…except you haven’t seen ‘Her’ yet…
Spike Jonze’s latest film concerns the life of Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix, ‘Walk The Line’), a lonely man who writes gift letters for folks for a living and is still reeling from an impending divorce from the love of his life. On a whim, he changes his old operating system to an artificial intelligence named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). As they both discover more about each other, a romance develops, inclusive of all the pitfalls of a normal relationship and a few technologically advanced challenges as well.
The immediately interesting thing about the film is how it deals with the future. Apart from being a romantic film, it is still a sci-fi flick, but it doesn’t feel that way at all. If anything, it feels set a decade or two in the past; tweed jackets and high dress pants, lots of pastels and creams, and an overall aesthetic of the setting that doesn’t look anything like the futures we’ve imagined or the present we’re in. Everything’s simple. Too simple to be futuristic. And that was deliberate. Apparently the idea was that, if technology advances to make life simpler, then life wouldn’t be bombarded with technical advancement, but instead become as simple and integrated as it possibly could.
We don’t see a lot of Joaquin Phoenix, but when we do we are very seldom disappointed. The same is true here – he seems to make the antisocial and emotionally affected Theodore Twombly completely relatable to anyone watching, and brings touching emotion to even the moments when he sits and does nothing. He’s sweet, romantic, weird, confusing, and maybe a great bit depressed, and we connect to all of it. Let’s not forget that for the majority of the intimate bits of the film he’s basically talking to himself in an empty room, which speaks to his ability as an actor. With that in mind, there’s only one thing that disappoints me about this film – that Joaquin Phoenix didn’t get a Oscar Best Actor for it.
I feel for Scarlett Johansson’s portrayal of the AI Samantha in the same way – her emotive voice acting is the extra layer to the film’s complexity, and the fact that both lead roles never interact with each other physically in the film yet can hold so much intimacy and tension. Her voice is human (disregard how obvious that sounds) in a way that makes her feel like the last woman I was with. Her voice soothes yet excites, and her conversations about the world have an innocence about them even when she’s revealing grand philosophical issues about artificial intelligence and the nature of life. She’s human in a way that we kind of forget that she’s not at all human, because she communicates about herself and the world in a way that we can still get sincerity from.
The script is, quite simply, amazingly good. It’s comical, evocative, and at times very philosophical, but never too complex, rigid or distant to the audience. Even at 12AM in the morning, there’s never a moment in this 2-hour film that makes you wonder if you can pause and come back to it later. Spike Jonze’s first solo screenplay does wonders for explaining his world and the characters in it in a way that always makes complete sense in our own world no matter how different they truly are. And the fact that it’s his directorial vision that brings his script to life helps in ensuring that we not only see our protagonist, but every single person who is living in this technologically immersive world
It’s weird that this film reminds me a bit of ‘Lars and the Real Girl’. Not just because the protagonists are similar, but the film’s critical acclaim took the same shape – an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay, but a Golden Globe Best Actor nod for the lead actor alone. Nonetheless, this is one of those films that everyone needs to see. Especially the folks who program Siri.
Running Time: 126 minutes (2 hours, 6 minutes)