VR Meets V-Day
Can you love what’s artificial?
On the surface, that’s an easy one. People throw around the “L Word” haphazardly. We love our cars, iPhones and clothing accessories. Movies are beloved, music speaks to the heart and a goofy YouTube video of a purring cat makes us feel good. But do we really love them? Last I checked, nobody has written a power ballad for their toaster. Your friends won’t try to fix you up with their Prius. As much fun as it is, none of us are willing to die for our Xbox One.
Maybe. What if our video games knew us personally? Imagine if our car asked us how our day was, Knight Rider style, and we felt like they genuinely cared. What if Siri loved you back.
Spike Jonze (Adaptation, Where The Wild Things Are) attempts to answer this question with Her, a humorous, honest and beautifully made portrait of an unlikely emotional union. And it just so happens to be one of the best films of the year.
Her centers on Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a quiet, melancholy man who spends his working days writing touching hand written letters for a relationship company. His nights are a lonelier affair, spent in seclusion as he struggles to adapt to newly single life. While wrangling with his impending divorce from Catherine (Rooney Mara), Theodore’s only personal attachment is his full of life co-worker and neighbors Amy (Amy Adams) and Charles (Matt Letscher). Enter Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), a brand new operating system designed to learn and interact with its owner on a personal level. Upon installing the OS on his computer, the two embark on a strange and touching journey through an interactive relationship.
Yes, I said “the two embark”. Much of the film is spent watching Phoenix chat with his faceless cell phone and on the surface, I was dubious on how it would work. Like I said in the opening, how can an actor connect with an inanimate object? In the hands of a lesser director, it would have been insufferable, but Jonze makes it work with an excellent script and two dynamite performances from Johansson and Phoenix. Joaquin in particular continues the acting renaissance he started with The Master. His portrayal of the silent sufferer is entrancing and engaging, despite rarely having a physical co-star to work off of. On the other side of the tech, Scarlett Johansson runs the gambit from professionally courteous to sensitive to emotional with perfection. It’s incredible to watch them grow together, exceptional considering one part of the puzzle is trapped in plastic.
Without some deft direction, the story could have dipped into schmaltz but Jonze’s trademark visual flair and smart decision making keeps things interesting. The near future would of Her seems like a natural evolution of our own with subtle updates. From modern costuming with twenties era flair, to tiny wireless headphones, the postmodern setting provides a realistic, believable background. Her has a love story soul supported by a sci-fi skeleton and if the setting didn’t work, the whole ship would have sank. You won’t find teleporters and spaceships in this version of the future and it’s a good thing.
Biting humor is also a big part of the picture. More than once, I found myself howling, capping off a year full of laughs from unexpected places. From a foul mouthed video game character to some frank late night chatting, the harder edged material prevents the film from turning into a summer rom-com.
In fact, the Katherine Heigls of the world could learn a thing or two from the excellent supporting cast. Adams, who has had a sensational year, continues the streak as Phoenix’s neighbor and emotional counterpart. She’s drab yet engaging, a perfect “friend zone” witness to Theo’s unusual new parner. Rooney is also strong as Theo’s soon to be ex-wife. Important in detailing the other side of personal connection, Rooney is strong willed, on point and surprisingly complex for such a small role.
Her is all about connections and Spike Jonze’s latest and most accomplished effort cements the theme at every turn. The setting fits in with the tech, the cinematography latches to the impressive score and the actors lock in with the exceptional script. Everything clicks along like a finely tuned watch, all powering a fascinating and engrossing premise. Jonze understands love is a complex mystery and rather than overdo the sentiment, he wisely sets the table with good characters and lets the story naturally run its course. The result is an incredible tightrope walk of brash humor, honesty and genuine heart. Maybe we’ll never start dating our stereo or whisper sweet nothings to the Keurig machine in the kitchen but if those devices ever start whispering back, Her may not be as science fiction as it seems today.
Besides, who doesn’t love their coffee.
Score: 9.5 out of 10
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