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Saturday, October 12, 2013

NYFF Closing Night Review: HER

JOAQUIN PHOENIX as Theodore in the romantic drama "HER," directed by Spike Jonze, a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

2013, 119 minutes
Not Yet Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

Is it possible to have a romance film when only one partner is real?  That is one the many questions that Spike Jonze’s new existential comedy/romance, Her, poses to its audience.  The film follows a lonely, recently divorced man, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), who writes letters for people in the near future.  One day, he buys a new advanced operating system, Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson)m and falls in love with her.

Jonze is a genius and Her is proof of this.  Jonze wrote and directed this radiant film.  In Adaptation., Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman deconstructed the modern day Hollywood screenplay and the writer’s process.  In the same manner of deconstruction, Jonze deconstructs romantic relationships and beauty in the modern day through Theodore and Samanatha’s relationship.  Theodore has been closed-off and is afraid of sharing his thoughts, which has hurt his past relationships.  With Samantha, though, Theodore feels free to share his thoughts openly, which seems to be Jonze’s comment on romance in the Internet Age.  Many relationships now rely on technology like Skype, which makes many people more comfortable, as they have an on/off switch.  Because they have this option and don’t have to face their partner during a rough period, it makes relationships more comfortable.  But, as Jonze shows and as we all know, relationships are not comfortable and cannot be perfect for long; the rockiness is what keeps relationships going.

Through Theodore’s musings with Samantha, Jonze is able to pinpoint every emotional high and low that everyone experiences in a relationship, and through this, he makes this film universal and brings the central romance to life brilliantly.

Amy Adams, Olivia Wilde, and Rooney Mara give quirky, delightful performances.  Joaquin Phoenix could very well be on the road to his next Oscar nomination.  Phoenix gives an authentic, moving performance as Theodore.  Phoenix plays Theodore with an offbeat sweetness and vulnerability (a trend in recent films), making him lovable, something different for Phoenix, an actor who has played some of the most unlikable protagonists recently (Freddie in The Master, Bruno in The Immigrant).  Every nuance is captured and watching him is a pleasure.

Scarlett Johansson is also marvelous as the voice of Samantha.  Her voice work is so natural and appealing that I completely forgot that Samantha wasn’t a real person.  She forms an entire character exclusively using her voice. 

The cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) is masterful and every shot is immaculately framed.  He beautifully captures the small moments between the characters and provides an excellent showcase for K.K. Barrett’s (Where the Wild Things Are, Lost in Translation) colorful futuristic production design.

Jonze’s feat with Her is monumental.  He has made the first romance film I've seen that features a pure romance, one in which beauty takes a back seat to personality.  In one scene, Theodore tells Samantha that she's beautiful even though he obviously cannot see her.  Theodore falls in love with Samantha's "personality".  This is a "real" relationship to an extent, as all superficiality is taken out.

Overall, Her is one of the year's best films and a welcome return for Spike Jonze.  With his well-developed characters, bizarre sense of humor, and sharp insight, Jonze has created a film of rare beauty and power that speaks to our changing times more than any other film this year.  From the moment Her started, I was in love with it and my love for it only grew as it continued on.  I cannot wait to see Her again.


1 comment:

  1. I haven’t seen the movie, but the preview and the review remind me of Lars and the Real Girl, which I fangirl loved.  Looking forward to seeing Her.