Film Review: Her


The lonely, recently heart-broken Theodore Twombly falls in love with an intelligent operating system with a female voice and a frighteningly developed personality. Reading that premise, two possibilities come to mind: a dark, brooding experimental art-house also ran, directed by a David Lynch wannabe, or an annoyingly soft, Pitchfork soundtracked Indie, with it’s quirkiness painted by numbers. However, director Spike Jonze manages to find a sweet spot between the two, and here his film thrives and becomes one of the best of the year.

The nebbish Theodore is played by Joaquin Phoenix in one of his best performances thus far. His story takes place in the not too distant future, where OS software is so developed it has an eerily human voice and personality of it’s own, designed as a sort of “in-ear, invisible personal assistant”. Theodore’s OS “Samantha” (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) immediately charms Theodore and comforts him as he finishes divorce proceedings with his wife (Rooney Mara). The two soon fall in love in a way that is not only convincing, but compelling. The lively Samantha is the perfect foil for the shy and lonely Theodore, and the film chooses to draw humour from the inherent difficultly of relationships, rather than aiming for cheap laughs at the expense of Theodore’s questionable romance.

Jonze doesn’t make films very often, but when he does they’re usually wonderfully confusing headscratchers such as Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. What is perhaps most surprising about Her is that unlike much of his previous work, it is Jonze’s characters that are gripping, rather than a twist after twist plot. Joaquin is instantly convincing and compelling as Theodore, showing a sadness behind his eyes that few talents could have matched. Appearing in every scene and almost every frame, more often than not in close-up, Joaquin captures every facial tick needed to capture the deep vulnerability of Theodore, without every becoming pathetic. His failed attempt at a human relationship during a blind date would want to make even the hardest of hearts want to just hug him. You can see Samantha is so drawn to him.

Joaquin is complemented excellently by Johansson, who makes a strong case for voice-work to be included in the Oscar’s acting categories, creating a character so vivid that audiences can truly believe in the odd pairs relationship. In fact, their performances are among the most convincing and realised in recent years. This is why Her is such a vital film. Jonze raises questions throughout about modern relationships and romance: with so much of our communication online, could the man and technology partnerships of Her become a reality? And is there anything inherently wrong with Theodore and Samantha’s love? Jonze never comes close to lecturing this point like so many other filmmakers would and it is this lightness of touch that is one of Her’s greatest points. Sure to provoke as much discussion with oneself as it will with others, Her shows rather than tells, allowing the viewer to draw from themselves to come to their own conclusions.

Not that the film is without it’s flaws. While Her is big and bold in ideas, it is often thin on story, and many will justifiably suggest the film would be better suited as a short. Also, the neglect of Amy Adams is particularly glaring coming so soon after her tour de force in American Hustle. She remains a warm, but underused presence as Theodore’s confidant and (human) shoulder to cry on.

In general though, Her is an engaging and thought provoking work. Whether a film so vital and current as this is able to establish itself as a classic or becomes a film of it’s time remains to be seen. For now though, Her is a must see.

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