Spike Jonze's 'Her' review: A new look at love with Joaquin Phoenix

By Daniel S Levine,
Author Rating: 
5.0 Stars - I Loved It!

Her is Spike Jonze's first film completely from his own mind. It is his fourth film, but both Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. were penned by Charlie Kaufman and Where The Wild Things was based on the classic Maurice Sendak book. But Her comes completely from Jonze and if he was out to prove that he could make a successful film with his own script, he has accomplished that and more. Her is the most unique love story and also the most unique film released in 2013.

Her is about Thodore Twumbley (Joaquin Phoenix), who not only has a fantastic name, but also falls in love with a new operating system, Samantha (Scarlett Johansson's voice). He's a lonely man, having just broken up with his wife, Catherine (Rooney Mara), but he does have at least one close friend – Amy (Amy Adams). Although Amy and Theodore have known each other since college, their relationship is purely platonic and after a failed blind date (Olivia Wilde in a really good appearance), he dives head-first into a romance with Samantha.

That's just the plot on the surface, but there's so much more to Her. On Theodore's level, the film explores what humans really fall in love with. Do we fall in love with a person? Is it their personality? Is it all about physical attraction? For Theodore, who has been unable to connect with people since his marriage to a woman he grew up with, love is about having a person to talk to. Someone who will feel the same feelings and grow with him. Samantha fits the bill, even if she doesn't have a physical form to go with her brain.

Jonze's films are filled with whole worlds created through stunning visuals and the same applies to Her. Of course, this future is cleaner than the locales of his previous films, but still has a lived-in feel. The production design is key to defining the Los Angeles of Her, where today's city is mixed with added elements to puts the film a decade or two in the future. There's no interest in explaining how this world works, since the design does that job.

The atmosphere of the film also makes it clear that Theodore may be alone, but he's not the only one with an intimate relationship with an operating system. Extras are always talking to their headpieces or hand-held computers in the background. Amy even knows people, including herself, who get attached to their OS's. Jonze shows that Theodore isn't crazy and that there's nothing wrong with him. Typically, in movies dominated by one character, a director falls on the cliché that there is something inherently wrong with our lead character, but Theodore is just a regular guy in the world of Her. Everyone has a problem, and that's connecting with artificial intelligence rather than another real person.

Joaquin Phoenix is simply brilliant as Theodore, giving another wonderful, nuanced performance. It must be hard to act with a character that isn't there, but Phoenix pulls it off, reacting to Samantha's words as if he was actually talking to her in person. That makes it much easier for the audience to genuinely believe that he loves his computer. As for the supporting cast, Adams gets another lovely role in this film and Chris Pratt is hilarious as Theodore's boss at the letter-writing company.

This is a film far funnier than you might expect (the video game kid is priceless), but it's also a romantic story. “Falling in love is a crazy thing to do,” Amy says. “It's like a socially acceptable form of insanity.” That's really the crux of the film, as Jonze tries to answer what love really is. Love is a feeling and Her is the most perfect expression of that idea.

image: trailer screenshot

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