Her is the freshest and the most original plots of all time. It is the finest writing and directorial endeavor of Spike Jonze’s career.
“I think I have felt everything I’m going to feel,” says Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), the protagonist of Her, “and from here on out I’m never going to feel anything new.” Theodore, who is in a deep depression but doesn’t realize it, is getting ready to finalize his divorce with his wife (Rooney Mara), who was once vibrant and happy and lively but over the years has grown resentful and sullen and accuses her husband of pulling away from her emotionally.
Theodore is befuddled — he clearly still loves her — but he’s the sort of person who can only share so much of himself before pulling away. At work, where he writes beautiful letters to strangers wishing them happy birthdays and anniversaries, he’s capable of being expressive and eloquent and thoughtful.
Well, feeling awkward? That’s how Spike Jonze‘s film ‘Her‘ is all about. Jonze’s long-awaited original film (Which released last year) is about a writer who falls in love with his operating system is one of the freshest and the most original plots of all time. “Her” is the finest writing and directorial endeavor of Spike Jonze’s career. And then there’s the towering and crowning work of Academy Award nominee Joaquin Phoenix who proves once again, he’s the finest actor working today, hands down. You can’t find a more dynamic and compelling story about the human connection and where we’re headed as a society.
Just a special note that when “Her” opens up, it snaps you immediately into the story. Phoenix plays Theodore, a writer for a website that makes letters for just about anyone. As he tries to find life during the midst of his divorce from his wife Catherine (played by a beautiful Rooney Mara), Theodore finds solace in a friendship with a new OS (operating system) named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). The two develop a relationship in a world where OS’s are becoming the norm with society.
Director Spike Jonze, who specializes in taking high-concept premises (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Where the Wild Things Are) and turning them into thoughtful meditations on human relationships. Her depicts a future L.A. as a clean and gleaming city filled with smooth surfaces and bright colors (Theodore is fond of wearing high-waisted pants and orange shirts). But people walk around connected to devices (think next-gen cellphones) that keep them alienated from each other — it’s an empty paradise.
Christopher Nolan should take notes from Jonze on the assembling of female counterparts in a story. Catherine and Theodore’s friend Amy, played by the always dependable Amy Adams, both feel genuinely authentic. Mara, who’s already delivered one other powerful performance in “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” earlier this year, is finely utilized. She shows once again that she’s a true professional, with limited screen time (many in flashbacks); she can staple herself in your memory.
Amy Adams is always the sprinkle on top in all of her films. As “Amy,” the awkward friend and neighbor who sympathizes more with Theodore more than she’d like to, Adams expertly executes. With four prior Oscar nominations to her credit, her stunning portrayal is just another fantastic pin to add to her credits. She could find traction during the awards season if the film hits in the right way. That’s also part to the petty Oscar rules about rewarding voice performances because if that wasn’t the case, Scarlett Johansson would be on stage holding an Oscar of her own next March. As “Samantha,” Johansson has never tapped into the essence of her abilities as an actress the way she does in “Her.” As an OS, full of wonder and curiosity, “Samantha” is essentially a child. Learning at a rapid rate and studying the behaviors of the human mind, she looks at the world through the eyes of Theodore. Johansson holds our hand in through the tale, even when her voice isn’t on screen. This is the type of work that could convince the Board of Governors to rethink the eligibility of an acting performance. This is a masterful work that I’ll remember for years to come.
But “Her” isn’t just about the writing and performances; it’s an all-around technical marvel. Most notably the Production Design of K.K. Barrett, who has worked on “Where the Wild Things Are.” Our story takes place in a futuristic (though never said how far ahead) Los Angeles and with shooting overseas, Barrett captures the clout of the city and its inside counterparts. Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema‘s use of colors and smooth palettes are things of a dream. Affectionately snuggling up to Phoenix as he whispers the sweetness of words to “Samantha” or the sweetness of a new letter at work, Hoytema has quickly become one of my favorite DP’s, especially following “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” and “Let the Right One In.” Arcade Fire and Karen O. are simply magic in their music that accompanies our story about love. A modern yet classical composition that in key scenes could move you to tears.
“Her” is one of the best love stories I’ve witnessed in some time. Charlie Kaufman will always have the honor of penning my favorite love story of all-time “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” but Spike Jonze and “Her” are giving it a true run for the money at the moment. Warner Bros. must know what they have with a limited release in late November; this could be the surprise embrace of the season. Unfortunately, as much as I can see around the world love and support for the film, it can easily be ignored in the same fashion. It’s a medium that many may not understand quite yet but filmmakers and historians will revisit for years to come. My hope will rely on a sure fire mention for Original Screenplay.
“Her” is the best thing I’ve seen this year and something I’ll hold with me for quite some time. Transcendent and beautiful, Spike Jonze has created his masterpiece and got the very best out of Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, and the rest of the cast and crew. And yes, I said masterpiece.
RATINGS: * * * * (& a half) / 5