Rating: 4.5 / 5
Spike Jonze has always been one of the film industry's most creative enigmas. A director who began his career doing music videos, Jonze later went into film, directing the bizarre ‘Being John Malkovich’ and the offbeat tale of writer's block in ‘Adaptation’.
His new flick, ‘Her’, is a strange mix of romance and sci-fi set in a futuristic version of Los Angeles, where all home interiors look like an Ikea catalogue. More crucially, it is also a world where humans and artificial intelligence may fall in love.
Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore Twombly, a lonely introverted man who has gone through a recent separation with his wife and childhood sweetheart Catherine (Rooney Mara).
He has a job writing personal or love letters for people who have problems expressing themselves, which seem to make him feel moodier.
Then comes the launch of a new operating system called OS1 which catches his eye. He buys it, the system does some magic while calibrating, and Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) is born.
Having Samantha in his life is a breath of fresh air, and her inquisitiveness and ability to grow and evolve fascinates Theodore. The two quickly grow closer, but the obvious problems start creeping into the “relationship”.
In all honesty, the plot is rather one-dimensional in that the audience knows where the movie is going with its conflict and situation. Technology, in all its sleek glory, is never going to fare well as a good old-fashioned lover.
Yet, that isn't really the point or highlight of the film or its stellar screenplay.
QUIRKY SET PIECES
By intricately building up the world of its screen characters and getting soaring performances from his lead actors, Jonze manages to craft a thought-provoking and highly emotional piece of work.
His penchant for quirky movie sets still shines, creating the perfect habitat for the depressed Theodore that is contrasted with the sun-soaked city run by computers, where the digital devices do things when told, and there are video games that swear at players.
More impressively, Phoenix spends just about the entire movie interacting with nothing but a voice in his earpiece... save for a few instances with close friend Amy (played by an almost unrecognisable Amy Adams).
With Theodore being an ultra sensitive guy, there was a huge risk that he would turn into a whinger with annoying “first-world problems”.
STRONG, STEADY ACTORS
But Phoenix is a steady force, injecting the appropriate amounts of soul, sweetness and even neediness, making for a sincerely moving performance.
Johansson, though never on screen, has strong presence as the cheerful computer character, her every vocal inflection noted as Samantha grows from a chirpy young creation to one much more burdened by the things she learns as time progresses.
There are some genuinely heartrending dialogue and some killer performances in this oddly entertaining film that is very much like the relationships we all experience: joyous at the beginning, darkly funny at times, and filled with underlying melancholy.
While it certainly may be viewed as a stark commentary on modern society's obsession with technology and how it breeds loneliness, ‘Her’ is best experienced as a meditation and deconstruction of the very fleeting nature of relationships –a tragic romantic comedy for the millennial generation.