Jonze’s Her is an inventive sci-fi romantic drama with biting social commentary.
Her transports us to future Los Angeles, where we meet Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix): a ghostwriter who writes letters and love notes for his clients. Building upon his special talent for crafting elegant letters, Theodore continues to write captivating letters for his clients and, in the process, has gained admiration from co-workers such as Paul (Chris Pratt). Despite his knack for capturing poignant emotions in his letters, Theodore is in a rough spot in his personal/love life. Separated from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara), Theodore spends his days walking alone, playing video games, and having weird experiences with blind dates.
Theodore’s luck changes when he buys the new, advanced Operating System (OS). The OS calls itself “Samantha” (Scarlett Johansson). What Theodore soon finds out is that Samantha is intelligent, funny, inquisitive, and self-evolving. Theodore and Samantha quickly develop a connection and, as a result, begin a relationship with each other.
As the two venture into this unprecedented relationship, they seem to complement in each other in terms of personality and ideas. But will Theodore and Samantha be able to handle and overcome the oddities and conflicts of the relationship they’re in?
Written and directed by Spike Jonze, Her is Jonze’s unique depiction of our world’s near future. The filmmaker has tackled inventive subjects before, such as writer’s block in Adaptation, and mind control in Being John Malkovich. However, with Her, Jonze makes his most accessible and thought-provoking film to date.
Jonze’s script brims with social commentary, painting his future society with people becoming reliant on technology to a point where they become closely attached to their technology. To that end, Theodore and Samantha’s relationship admittedly may come across as weird at first but, as the film progresses, becomes intriguing to watch. Their relationship serves as an example of how humans can go from just being in human/human relationships to human/OS relationships. Jonze successfully strikes a smart balance when handling the Theodore/Sam relationship by allowing the relationship to blossom naturally as well as infusing the relationship with brutal realities and the same pitfalls associated with real-life relationships. As a result, the interplay between Theodore and Sam is engrossing to watch, especially in the touching moments that unfold in the film.
Visually-speaking, Her is Jonze’s picturesque depiction of future Los Angeles. Jonze, along with cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, shot Her in Shanghai. By doing this, they both take advantage of Shanghai’s beautiful, tall skyscrapers and using them to create the setting of the film. Jonze juxtaposes the setting and the characters/regular people to offer insight into how so many people can live in the city together, but, at the same time, are disconnected from each other. Moreover, Jonze uses a warm color palette, infusing scenes with bright and warm colors. Theodore’s work office and apartment are bathed with rich colors, giving viewers the opportunity to immerse into the settings. Jonze further creates a realistic depiction of the future by including sequences of Theodore playing video games. These video games resemble the virtual reality games in popular culture and give viewers a glimpse of how our games will evolve.
Performance-wise, Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson are great as Theodore and Samantha, respectively. Phoenix, who is the most underrated actor in Hollywood, delivers a strong performance as Theodore. As Theodore, Phoenix conveys the complicated emotions of the character through subtle facial expressions. He also pulls off impressive acting chops by acting and reacting with Samantha’s voice when, in fact, Johansson (voice of Samantha) wasn’t in the room during the production.
Johansson, who has built a successful film career away from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, takes a break from playing the strong combatant Black Widow to play Samantha. Johansson is remarkable in the role, evoking curiosity, fear, and compassion. With both Phoenix and Johansson in their respective roles, Theodore and Samantha make for an interesting couple—buoyed by well-written character dynamics between the two.
Actors Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, and Chris Pratt round out the supporting cast and deliver solid performances in the film. Adams portrays Theodore’s longtime friend Amy and, once again, proves that she has more acting range than people think. As Amy, Adams exudes sympathy, quirkiness, and confidence—a different role from what people see her as (e.g. Lois Lane). With Adams in the role, Amy is an interesting character who shares a good dynamic with Theodore.
Rooney Mara portrays Theodore’s estranged wife Catherine. As Catherine, her interactions with Theodore are shown in flashback form, but in the few brief present moments she shares with Theodore, Mara does solid work. Talented performers Olivia Wilde and Chris Pratt have limited screen time compared to other actors, but display their acting skills in the scenes they’re in.
Her is Spike Jonze’s magnum opus and, because of this, film buffs will appreciate and discuss this film in detail. Through his well-written screenplay, Jonze showcases many poignant, palpable scenes between humans and OS’s. As a result, Jonze has made an engrossing romantic drama that showcases an authentic (possible) future that may become our own someday.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
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