Sunday, October 13, 2013

“Her” – Movie Review



On the closing night of The New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center, I attended a screening of the new film written & directed by Spike Jonze, “Her”, starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams and Scarlett Johansson.


When a man falls in love with the operating system that runs his computer, will he be able to sustain the relationship or will the obvious differences between them cause it to be doomed to failure?


In the Los Angeles of the future – or is it really the present? – technology has so inhabited the life of each member of society to the point that it has both enabled and disabled mankind tremendously because everyone has developed such an extensive reliance on the operating system of their computer(s).   Oddly, this has worked to the advantage of Theodore (Phoenix), a talented writer who works at a Web site where he authors deeply personal letters between people who are either unwilling or unable to compose the missives themselves.  Delving deeply into his work helps Theodore deal with the trauma of his recent divorce from Catherine (Rooney Mara). 

One day, Theodore learns of a new operating system for his computer – one that is based on heuristics, using Artificial Intelligence to run the system.  Intrigued, Theodore decides to purchase this upgrade and install it on his computer.  Since technology is now almost completely voice-activated to the point that users no longer need to press a keyboard, click a mouse or touch a monitor, the new operating system is able to speak to Theodore – in fact, it has a female voice and has named itself Samantha (Johansson).  Soon, Samantha has become so intimately involved in Theodore’s life that he begins to develop feelings for it and before they know it, Theodore and Samantha appear to fall in love with each other. 

Delighted about his new romance, Theodore confides in his neighbor Amy (Adams) about his new love – but she also reveals to him that she has just separated from her husband and his now suffering the same pangs of depression Theodore did following his own divorce.  Although Samantha seems like the perfect girlfriend, the relationship eventually hits a few bumps along the road when Theodore begins to appear distant and he suspects that Samantha may be cheating on him.  Will the two be able to mend the love affair or will the fact that Samantha is not human turn out to be too insurmountable to overcome? 



Although I’m suffering from a bit of post-festival depression with the end of the NYFF, at least I can take solace in the fact that it concluded on a high note – and what a movie to end with!  I only saw three films in this year’s festival, but of those I saw, “Her” was by far the best of them.  In fact, I would go further to say that this might be one of the best films – if not the best film – I’ve seen all year.  Spike Jonze doesn’t merely hit a homerun with “Her” – he hits a grand slam.  I’ve seen conflicting dates about this movie’s release – one site says mid-January 2014 and another says mid-December of this year.  I would hope that it will open in limited release in mid-December for Oscar contention, then go on to a wide release a month later.  It is certainly a motion picture worthy of consideration for at least one (arguably, more) Academy Award nominations.  Whenever it does open, I strongly urge you to see it as soon as you possibly can.

Is “Her” a romantic comedy?  A drama?  Science fiction fantasy?  All of the above, I would submit – and also quickly add that it strikes all of the right notes for each genre.  From its first shot of Joaquin Phoenix in an uncomfortably extreme close-up right up to its heartbreakingly beautiful conclusion, “Her” grabs the viewer’s raw emotions and steadfastly refuses to let go for the next two hours, featuring a compelling story with characters in whose fate one can become totally invested.  While ostensibly about technology, it never gets so intricately involved that it becomes geeky because “Her” doesn’t lose sight of the fact that it’s about people – and more to the point, that “human beings” are permitting technology to make them both less “human” and less “being”. 

Prior to the screening, writer/director Spike Jonze was introduced to the audience; he spoke briefly, noting that the last time he had a film at The New York Film Festival was “Where The Wild Things Are” and that as a result, he wanted to dedicate the evening to Maurice Sendak.  Following the screening, members of the cast – Phoenix, Adams (I believe) and Olivia Wilde (with a brief cameo in “Her” as a woman who had a blind date with Theodore) appeared in the balcony and were all deservingly greeted with resounding applause.  The cast – in particularly, Phoenix – is excellent in this film; even without being on screen, Johansson’s voice alone is endearing, personable and yes, sexy.  Is falling in love with a computer operating system really all that preposterous?  I don’t know – mainly because I fell in love with a movie.  Its name is “Her”.  And it would be my great pleasure to be able to introduce you to “Her”. 

Her (2013) on IMDb 5.2/10122 votes 


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