Spike Jonze’s “Her” was everything expected and unimaginable. In a near-future Los Angeles, Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore, a simple, unassuming letter writer. His knack for words allows him to write what other people are feeling, but comes up short in expressing his own. He finds himself somewhat removed from society and preoccupied with the recent divorce from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara). Yet with the help of Samantha (voice of Scarlett Johansson) the newest lifelike operating system, Theodore’s inner self is slowly drawn out as their relationship blooms.
The whole idea of a conscious technology can be alarming or uncomfortable — like the awkwardness of a first date — but after a few minutes, Jonze skillfully eases the concept onto our laps. The film wanders in directions just far enough where the audience can explore, but in surprisingly familiar spaces.
The bright pastel pink and yellow hues add a certain uplifting sweetness keeping the audience in a dreamy state. The innovative, tech-savvy and most inspiring of all, public-transit-reliant-LA, paints a small picture of what may emerge in years to come. Scenes on the beach, rooftops, and on the pier reflect the natural beauties of LA — refreshing in what can feel like a New York heavy film scene. However fashion seems to have regressed, as high-waisted old man pants are the statement piece.
Phoenix’s performance shows a softer side than past films he’s starred in, but it’s still equally powerful and deeply genuine in accordance. Down to the facial gestures, and mannerisms —like keeping his delightfully hipster glasses from falling down his nose — Phoenix wears his character well.
The beauty of Jonze’s story lies in his perspective of this limited life and his ability to strike intimate connections with unlikely pairs. Johansson’s vocal performance merits acknowledgement for the spectrum of tones and emotions she was able to convey without the physical body to assist her, which is a testament to Johansson’s acting, as she is always inseparably associated with her curvaceous form. Samantha’s interactions with Theodore produce several comedic moments, as these are no arbitrary Siri responses but full-fledged banter.
Yet the air is thick with an innocent sadness, akin to “Where The Wild Things Are,” which has become more creatively unique to Jonze. After all, themes of isolation and loneliness dominate the film, but also unearth that love takes many forms whether it be for ex-wives, new operating systems, or longtime friends (Amy Adams).
In the phone and computer obsessed generation we live in today, the film does raise a question of advances — can they make us more real and connected or is it all just temporary? Naturally, just something to consider.
Furthermore, the film’s soundtrack is a poignant centerpiece with a moving score by Arcade Fire, in addition to songs by The Breeders and Karen O.
Spike Jonze has certainly made a name for himself over the last decade, and with the soulful “Her” under his belt, he has left a lasting impression of his cinematic talent. Here’s to hoping it gains the recognition it deserves in the upcoming awards season.
RECOMMENDED: Spike Jonze has truly outdone himself with the originality of “Her.”