Friday, January 17, 2014

A Reel Review: HER

HER, the newest film from writer/director Spike Jonze, is a film which embraces the oldest axiom in storytelling and movie-making; the higher the concept, the simpler the story must be. HER embraces technology and artificial intelligence in a not-so-distant future, and tangles it with the easiest of all stories: Love.
Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is a lonely, divorced man and struggling writer who is in the pits when he purchases a highly advanced operating system (OS) for his computer. The OS is artificially intelligent, and has a female personality named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Theodore and Samantha begin a romance which is met with encouragement from his best friend (Amy Adams) and disapproval by his ex-wife (Rooney Mara).

HER is very much another take on KING KONG; where two characters fall for each other even though it is impossible for them to be together on a physical level. What makes it work is the fact that Samantha has the ability to learn and advance every second, and that aspect gives Theodore something to latch onto as the both of them learn what it means to be lovers, and more importantly, human. Director Spike Jonze writes an intricate and thought-provoking script, giving both characters a lot of territory to explore in each other.
At its core, HER is a basic love story. Theodore and Samantha go through every stage of a romance; attraction, flirtation, falling in love, sex, jealousy, disagreements, and the eventual end. The simplicity of the romance works because of the two characters learning how to live like a human; Samantha because she is a machine, and Theodore because he lost everything, including himself, after his messy divorce. Spike Jonze keeps the characters advancing and exploring, while stopping to drop in some clever irony here and there. Jonze has also filmed a fantastic looking movie. It looks great, and the clothing and technology feels like it could be right around the corner of our near future.

Joaquin Phoenix gives an amazing performance. He is a hurt and vulnerable man who can be delighted and heartbroken by the littlest thing, and Phoenix nails it at every turn. He goes from elation to depression in the blink of an eye, and it is by far the deepest emotional work he has ever done. Scarlett Johansson, as the voice of Samantha, is perfect, and the rest of the cast including Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Chris Pratt, and the always-stunning Olivia Wilde are excellent.
The film ends on an incredibly high note, and Jonze manages to tell not only an effective love story but gives a strong statement on where we are headed as a society as technology keeps getting bigger. For all the high-tech and as much as you have to buy into, HER tells a very human story which is strong and fulfilling. This is great sci-fi, and even better storytelling.


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