Film Review: HER

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Her
by Spike Jonze
Warner Bros. Studios
2013

I saw Her at the Academy Cinemas on a cool evening, which sounds like the beginning of a beautiful date but instead was two hours of amused and bemused chortling, wonderment, thoughtfulness, and constant timekeeping.  As the poster above notes, it is a Spike Jonze love story, which should be fair enough warning.

The Academy Award-nominated film stars Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore Twombly, a sensitive and thoughtful man who dictates super personal letters to people who apparently hire him and his workmates to write super personal letters for their loved ones. He is supported by a stellar cast of women: Amy Adams as his longtime friend and neighbour, also named Amy; Rooney Mara as his childhood sweetheart and now ex-wife Catherine; Olivia Wilde as a woman Theodore goes on a date with; and Scarlett Johanssen as the Artificial Intelligence he falls in love with, Samantha.

Her was nominated for five Oscars this year, but left with only the Best Original Screenplay award. This was probably the most appropriate out of the lot for Jonze to win; the film as a whole was a mixed bag for me. It was a little too long at just over two hours and could probably have done with maybe a quarter hour or so of extra chopping. However, the script touches upon something that has been maybe lesser explored in recent times: can man fall in love with machine? What role does robotics and computing play in our lives as technological advancements become all the more common each day? Do you need a physical entity beside you to experience a satisfying relationship? What is a satisfying relationship?

Despite this admirable tack, and bearing in mind that Jonze’s style is sort of fantasy mixed with a dash of the surreal and stirred in with the beautiful, the problem that roils around in my head when thinking of Her, is, I’m not entirely certain what Jonze was trying to tackle with the premise. If the Best Picture Oscar went to a movie that was exactly that – speaking in terms of cinematography and beauty, then by god give him all the awards. But as the Best Picture encompasses the theme, the plot, the structure, the very story that comes to life and unfolds on the screen before us: well, it missed the mark for me on that one. Yes, it’s all about this guy and how he’s alone and withdrawn and then he falls in love with his operating system but you know what? His love interest is a voice. Sure, a really sexy voice but still a voice nonetheless. The lack of physicality is addressed in the movie, and in a rather touching way, actually, but it’s going to take me a long time to get used to watching a movie about a man who talks his issues through with a voice. It just dragged the movie out when I wasn’t able to see that interaction between two people, one of whom has rather serious emotional issues.

What I did enjoy was the acting, which was outstanding from all parties – it was really great casting with this movie; I must give special mention to Chris Pratt as the co-worker at Theodore’s job – and I particularly enjoyed my new favourite Rooney Mara in all her nostalgic-flashback-Lomography-tinted glory, even though she only had one real scene she was so good. So good!

The colouring and tone of Her is another very well done aspect of the film: it is set in 2025, but the characters are dressed in a sort of 70’s throwback costume, with high-waisted pants and dowdy cardigans against bright coloured shirts. It’s a juxtaposition to the usual sci-fi fare with hoverboards and neon buildings, and normalises the film, focusing the story as if the man/OS relationship was the only out-there notion we could manage at any one time. And the whole film itself is very warm colours and beautiful, gorgeous bokeh, very nostalgic in the way that it invites you to be cocooned in the world of Theodore and Samantha. “Come into my realfantasy land,” it says, and you feel safe and comforted and happy even though this is a movie about one man and a voice in his ear.

If you’re a fan of Spike Jonze and the off-beat, Her is probably for you. If not, wait for the $5 DVD rental. THREE-and-a-HALF out of FIVE Silent LOLs.

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