Review by Gordon Justesen
Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, Scarlett Johansson
Director: Spike Jonze
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 125 Minutes
Release Date: May 13, 2014
“The past is just a story we tell ourselves.”
There’s never been a love story quite like Her. Then again, up until now, there’s never been a love story written and directed by Spike Jonze. And sure enough, one of the most original filmmakers of our time has conceived what is sure to be regarded as a watershed cinematic love story.
Set in the not-too-distant future, which Jonze conveys brilliantly in a most subtle manner, the story is very much that of a romance in a technologically advanced time. Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) works as a writer of computer generated handwritten letters for clients. Voice recognition is very much key in getting pretty much any and everything accomplished.
Theodore is also in the midst of finalizing his divorce to Catherine (Rooney Mara), and is having a rather difficult time moving onward in the dating field. But that changes in an unexpected way when he purchases an operating system with artificial intelligence capabilities. He requests that it have a female identity, and soon the voice of “Samantha” is created (voiced to absolute perfection by Scarlett Johansson).
This particular OS is designed to evolve and adapt like a human being. And right of the bat, Theodore is extremely fascinated by Samantha, or Sam’s, ability to learn and evolve in psychological manner. Eventually, the two discuss such intimate issues as love, and more to the point why he is unwilling to go forward with the divorce procedure.
She eventually suggests going on a blind date with an acquaintance (Olivia Wilde) that a platonic co-worker, Amy (Amy Adams), has been trying to set him up with for some time. The date goes very well, until she hits him with the question of commitment. This makes him hesitate, thus ruining the evening for her.
However, conversations between man and female computer grow even more intimate. Before long, Theodore and Sam are engaging in an affectionate relationship. In fact, it’s the most invigorating one he’s ever experienced as illustrated in scenes where he chats with her through an earpiece in various public places.
There are so many elements of Her that are beyond fascinating, starting with the story itself. I always tend to be mind blown by films that take place in the future where in which the future setting doesn’t call attention to itself (Children of Men is another great example), and what Spike Jonze and his filmmaking team have done here is most remarkable. In order to capture the look and feel of a slightly futuristic LA, Jonze shot a good bit of the exteriors in and around Shanghai, which to me was brilliant decision.
As a performance piece, the movie showcases two revealing performances and in different forms. Joaquin Phoenix has always been a dazzling and gifted actor, and here he shows a very reduced and tender side that I don’t think we have ever seen from him before. The see an actor go to such a dark and intense place as he did in The Master and then go in the exact opposite direction with this performance just shows what a marvelous actor Phoenix is, and it’s a shame he wasn’t nominated for his work.
Then there’s Scarlett Johansson, who is without question the most beautiful woman in existence. So to have her in a movie where we don’t get to see her might sound like the most insane concept imaginable. But she also happens to have a distinctively sexy and all around effective voice, and through that she is able to bring the role of Sam to life in a way I don’t think many actresses could.
As for the debate on whether not a disembodied Scarlett Johansson should qualify for an Oscar nomination, the answer is most certainly YES. Again, her voice is what gives this character life and personality, resulting in an ultimately memorable portrayal. Sam is right up there with Hal 9000, and that should tell you something!
On a side note, who ever decided to put Johansson and Olivia Wilde in the same movie together is a casting genius, as Ms. Wilde is the second most beautiful woman in existence. Had they been able to squeeze in Jennifer Lawrence somewhere, then that would have been IT for me. Perhaps a reboot of Charlie’s Angels with these three in the future, pretty please?
But at the very least, Her won a most deserving Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, which it was extremely deserving of. In a time when original ideas in films are so very few, a film like this should be immensely celebrated for being nothing but original. And beyond that, it happens to be one of the most truly beautiful love stories ever told through the medium!
Since the film itself is so fully detailed in its depiction of a technologically advanced society, and Spike Jonze has a such a distinctive eye, it’s no surprise that it’s captured so visually amazing in this grand Blu-ray presentation from Warner. Detail is all around in every single solitary frame here, and it has equal shares of light and dark sequences...both of which are fleshed out beautifully in the 1080p. Such highlights include scenes where Theodore is playing a video game with an image that nearly fills up an entire room. Colors are displayed in a most magnificent form as well. A grand job from top to bottom.
This is first and foremost a dialogue driven film, and yet the DTS HD mix is able to capture the overall atmosphere so perfectly well, you can’t help but admire it. There’s also a unique music score provided by Arcade Fire, which sounds most amazing as expected. And dialogue delivery, which is pivotal for a film like this, is handled with pure excellence. If you love Ms. Johansson’s sultry, smokey voice as I do, then you’ll definitely appreciate how she sounds here!
There are essentially three features included. The first of which is a well detailed featurette titled “The Untitled Rick Howard Project”, which captures multiple aspects of the film’s production in a fly-on-the-wall manner. Next is another intriguing featurette titled “Her: Love in the Modern Age”, where we get various reactions to the film by an assortment of artists. Lastly, there’s “How Do You Share Your Love With Somebody”, a visual essay complete with clips and behind the scenes footage.
Her is an accomplishment on so many levels. It’s a unique love story, a fascinating glimpse at technology and truly captures what it feels like to be both lonely and completely in love. Spike Jonze has created yet another remarkable piece!