Dave’s Review: Her

Letter Grade:

The Good:

Beautifully shot
A lot of time was spent on creating a believable world
Realistic portrayal of love and relationships
Amazing acting by Phoenix and Johansson
Surprisingly funny

The Bad:

Some may find it too...shall we say...quirky
Some will find it slow
Just vulgar enough to not be for everyone

Cast & Crew:

Directed By: Spike Jonze
Written By: Spike Jonze
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Chris Pratt

Rated R for language, sexual content and brief graphic nudity

I watch a lot of movies over the course of a film year (Oscar Season-Oscar Season) and I’m going to go ahead and say it, “Her” is the best film I’ve seen all year…hands down.

Set in Los Angeles in the not-so-distant future, “Her” begins by showing a seemingly average day in the life of Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix). In the midst of a painful (as they often are) divorce, Theodore spends his working hours being paid to write love letters to other people and his non-working hours in a HERdepression fueled haze. He absent-mindedly sorts through emails, plays video games, and frequents online chat rooms all while clearly yearning for real, meaningful human interaction. This all changes when Theodore sees an advertisement for a new computer operating system that touts an artificial intelligence that learns and evolves on it’s own. His new operating system names herself Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). As Theodore and Samantha get to know each other they fall in love and begin an unlikely, yet beautiful, romantic relationship.

With a summary like that it’s easy to understand why some people think this movie may be just a little too off-the-wall for them. This isn’t however, the story of a weird loner/nerd that creepily falls in love with his computer. It’s far more complex than that. It’s a love story, between two equally fleshed out characters that are both growing and evolving in their own ways.

This is not at all your typical feel-good romantic movie…and that’s great news. It’s complex and not just a fluff movie about how wonderful love is. It’s strange to say about a movie where half of the main characters are not “real” people, but this is the most “real” romantic film I’ve seen in a long time. It’s not nice and neat and tidy. We see the euphoric highs and depressing lows in love just as we have all experienced them in our own lives.

Unlike a lot of artsy/quirky films, I actually found myself caring about these two characters. I cared about Theodore’s heartache from his divorce. I cared about the joy he got from finally connecting with someone after a bout of depression. I even cared about Samantha’s pain over her inability to connect physically with someone she loved. I actually cared about the feelings of a computer program. That’s something. You hear it said a lot, but this movie really does have a lot of heart.

In this film, Director Spike Jonze has produced a real polished gem. In the past, Jonze’s films (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Where the Wild Things Are) have been kind of indie-quirky and not entirely friendly to a mainstream audience. With “Her,” Spike Jonze really seems to have nailed down a perfect combination of his previous films. It’s a little odd, beautiful to look at, and has plenty of deep intellectual themes. It’s a real complete film. It has all the calling cards of a quirky Indie film (somewhat slow paced/artsy shots, offbeat HER-FP-0770actors, a dash of existential angst, etc.) but it didn’t seem as pretentious as some Indie films tend to be. You know what I mean. How many times have you sat through a cute little Indie movie only to have it end and say to yourself “… wait…did anything actually happen in this movie?” They aren’t bad movies, they just tend to be all surface level, intellectual mumbo-jumbo (side note: that’s the first time I have ever typed the word “mumbo-jumbo” in my entire life and according to Google, I spelled it correctly. Who said phonics would never pay off?) that has potential to raise a lot of questions about life and living but in reality they just engage the audience. I was worried that’s what I may be getting into with this film and was pleasantly surprised when I was wrong. There are real issues here: The nature of love, coping with hardships, what it means to be part of a relationship, how technology affects our personal relationships with those around us. And in addition to all that, there’s actually some semblance of plot here… which is a lot more than you get from many meandering Indie-style movies.

“Her” is not only imaginative thematically but also technically. The film is set in a realistic, stylish (if you don’t count the strange high-waisted pants that must be all the rage in the not-so-distant future…I’m not looking forward to that.), and most importantly believable future. As a bit of a techie nerd I loved the inclusion of HERthe evolved yet completely feasible technology. It wasn’t simply included for that “wow” factor that is seen in a lot of futuristic movies. It was perfectly integrated and only added to the tone of the film by immersing the viewer in a real and practical futuristic reality. As is to be expected based on his previous works, Jonze supplies an ample amount of really breathtaking shots in this film. We see some really amazing cityscape shots that are used to portray both isolation and beauty as well as more intimate and personal close-ups that masterfully show both jubilation and vulnerability. I can’t say it enough; this film was visually stunning.

The acting performances are also great and completely worthy of the awards chatter that both Phoenix and Johansson are receiving (Can an actor receive an Oscar Nomination for a voice?). A large portion of this film is Phoenix on his own, reacting to only the sound of Samantha’s voice. The fact that Phoenix can HERconvince us that he’s fallen in love without the help of a physical acting partner is spectacular. There are a lot of long close up shots of his face where he is able to beautifully portray a vast range of real emotion and vulnerability that is not often captured on film. Johansson’s voice acting is also amazing and made me care about the character of Samantha despite not being able to use any sort of body language to deepen the context of her acting. It’s a pretty great performance…even if it’s only her voice.

While I was literally glued to the screen for the whole film (ok not literally, that would be ridiculous. Let’s say metaphorically glued to the screen), I am sure that some will find this movie to be slow. In my head the slow nature of the film really helped to drive home the poignant and real nature of the film.

The “R” rating is certainly appropriate here. Despite what I feel are some pretty important life lessons and powerful themes, this is not something to watch with your whole family. There’s some brief nudity, sexual situations, and a decent amount of swearing.

Overall this film was cool, quirky, funny, and endearing all without going overboard. If this seems like the type of movie you would even slightly enjoy, GO SEE IT…LIKE TODAY. 




Images courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures


Dave Bernard (5 Posts)

More About Me