Spike Jonze’s Her is an intriguing and genuinely touching romantic drama starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams and Scarlett Johansson. It received critical acclaim when it was released in 2013 and won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Watching it again, I have no doubt this is much deserved.
My film tastes have skewed in recent years and I’ve found myself watching more films about romance and relationships. This was one that was on my list for ages. It’s a love story for the lonely and broken hearted, with a technological twist.
Theodore (Pheonix) is a man in his thirties who works writing personal letters for other people, and whose marriage has just ended. He falls in love with Samantha (Johansson), his new personalised Operating System with artificial intelligence.
Like always the relationship is satisfying to start with (they even have sex), but then problems emerge. Theodore has serious emotional baggage. I think his ex-wife Catherine puts it best: “You always wanted to have a wife without the challenges of actually dealing with anything real and I'm glad that you found someone. It's perfect.” Poor Guy. Samantha lacks a physical presence, and she’s grows more intelligent and sensitive by the day. It’s very conflicting to have a mind with endless possibilities when you don’t have a body.
The film strikes me for being very intimate and uncomfortable. There are lots of close-ups of people kissing and Theodore’s long face with his crystal-blue eyes. It’s very unsettling but also revealing. Even his mustache on his face sits uncomfortably, left over like the painful emotions of his failed marriage.
In contrast the locations of broad cityscapes and mountains puts things in a universal perspective and are beautifully shot. The quick montages are effective in how they present flashbacks and give you context and emotion in a simple way.
The screenplay is superbly refined. Every line of dialogue and every interaction between characters is connected to the heart of the story. It provides a strong base for subtlety in the performances onscreen. The reliance on smart devices present in the film reflects greatly on modern society and scarily brings the relationship to life. The story has some similar elements to Ruby Sparks (also to be reviewed on this blog). Both films present the idea of adapting to changes in relationships, and both protagonists are haunted by the shadow casted by their previous relationship.
Theodore and Amy (Adams) have undeniable chemistry and their friendship is very heartwarming. There’s a mutual respect and affection with how they treat each other. In a world with faster and more instant connection one can be left alienated and even paralyzed. This film brings comfort that real human connections can help one heal in times of pain. A simple visual of two people sitting together on a rooftop overlooking the city is enough relief for me right now.