Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Review: Her

Spike Jonze is the master of off-the-wall experimental movie ventures.  Having helmed such creative visions as Being John Malcovich (loved it), Where the Wild Things Are (missed it) and Adaptation ( HATED IT), Jonze is anything but your typical cookie-cutter Hollywood director.  With his latest futuristic AI/Human love story Her, he continues to bring original stories to the big screen.  Her plays out a unique love story that touches on what makes us human and illustrates the growing reliance on technology in our society.

Starring the rejuvenated Joaquin Phoenix (so glad he decided to give up his rap career), Amy Adams (girl is on a ROLL these days), Rooney Mara, Chris Pratt, Olivia Wilde and featuring the raspy voice of Scarlett Johansson, Her focuses on Theodore Twombly (Phoenix), a separated loner who in the midst of a divorce begins a relationship with a new computer operating system named Samantha (Johansson). In the not-too-distant future, everyone has an earpiece to listen to their music, hear emails and chat with their computerized assistants (OSes - short for Operating Systems).  Theodore begins the film by playing lots of melancholy music while traveling to and from his job as a handwritten letter-writer, sort of a ghost writer for people who don't have time to write meaningful letters themselves.  We can tell he's in a funk and his impending divorce to Mara's character is affecting his ability to meet new people.  He confides in his friend (Adams), tries to go on a date or two (with Wilde) but ultimately finds his most meaningful relationship with Samantha, his new OS.

Most of the film explores the coupling of Theodore and Samantha.  Samantha is a learning OS and discovers her love for Theodore, while expressing her frustration of not having a physical form to actually "be" with him.  Phoenix does an outstanding job of portraying a socially awkward man who starts to enjoy life again with his new companion.  His soft spoken delivery and shy mannerisms all seem authentic and it proves once again that Phoenix is one of the best actors of his generation.  While we don't get the pleasure of watching Johansson in this film, her verbal performance as Samantha is perfect and should actually receive some Oscar consideration.  Her playful, humorous tone makes it seem like an OS could actually be your friend and companion.  Adams is great once again as the friend that Theodore confides in.  She gives a muted performance that is far different from her brilliant turn in American Hustle.

What Jonze has done with this movie is show that while technology can bring us closer together, it can't really replace the basic instinct of humans needing to be with another human.  Some of the story seems far fetched and I doubt any programmer can deliver the nuances of Johansson's voice in an artificial intelligence within the next 100 years.  There are several awkward scenes including the couple trying to involve a "surrogate" body and a pretty hot-and-heavy "audio sex" scene between Phoenix and Johansson.  Neither of these quirks is enough to over shadow the shimmery brilliance of Jonze's direction.  The cinematography in this movie is simply beautiful to watch.

This is an excellent film that sits with you for a while after you leave the theater.  I was all set to give this a 4 JR rating but I kept thinking about it and how it speaks to long distance relationships and how technology is invading our everyday lives.  It really is a very thought-provoking study on modern-day love.  I feel like I have to bump up my rating to 4.5 out of 5 JRs. for one of the best movies of 2013.  You can probably wait for video on this one, but expect to see Phoenix get some Best Actor consideration and I wouldn't count out a nod for Best Picture as well.

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