I can honestly say that Spike Jonze is the strangest and most off-the-wall filmmaker I have ever seen. He has an uncanny ability to take the weirdest premises and make them seem mundane, but also to take an everyday-average premise and turn into something that will mess with your mind until you have no choice but to appreciate it.
Sometimes this works to his advantage, such as “adaptation.” which is a one-of-a-kind movie with some well-crafted dialogue and wonderful performances by Nicholas “Cagerage” Cage and Meryl Streep. Other times, it leaves the audience unsure of what to make but still feeling entertained through many hilarious moments and ideas, like in “Being John Malkovich.”
This brings us to Jonze’s newest film, “her.” This one is certainly different from the previous work of Jonze, in that it exchanges his usual quirky and unearthly presentation and style for a more quiet and restrained piece. Oh, the film is still weird and unsettling at times, but it has an air of dignity and care for its characters. It lets events play out naturally without anything feeling forced, especially the dialogue and actions of our heroes.
“her” feels more human than most other movies I can think of.
Set in Los Angeles of the not-too-distant future (insert MST3K joke here), Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), whose job is to write love letters for those who can’t, tries to break out of his shell after recently breaking up with his wife (Rooney Mara). Things take a turn for the bizarre when the first artificial intelligent operating system (or OS) is released to the public.
Theodore, of course, purchases an OS (voiced by Scarlett Johanssen) and the two quickly develop a friendship. The OS, naming herself “Samantha,” shows signs of a personality and quirks that any human would show and Theodore is attracted by her upbeat attitude to explore the world and know everything. So much so that he begins to fall in love with Samantha.
If there’s one thing I hate about romantic movies, it is a forced romance between the two leads, who have little to not chemistry or compatibility, and this happens way more often than it should. Some of the best examples of romance in movies are the more offbeat ones, like Charlie Chaplin’s silent comedy “City Lights” or the animated sci-fi feature “WALL-E.”
The romance in these films rely, not on a physical attraction or love at first sight, but intrigue and wanting to learn more about this unique individual. Simple exchanges and gestures can turn into lasting images that stick with their opposite and the audience.
This is what makes the relationship between Theodore and Samantha so lively and refreshing to see.
Their love for each other progresses naturally, with the two learning about each other and both influencing one another. Theodore initially questions a piece of machinery that has instincts and takes a breath of air before speaking, while Samantha is enthralled by Theodore’s outgoing and quirky personality that she wants to know more about the world through his eyes.
This aspect is enhanced further through the dialogue and banter between the two. Every line of dialogue flows without feeling forced or over-the-top. While often producing a laugh, that’s only because of their personalities and love for each other.
Yet the two also have their flaws. Theodore is an introvert and has a difficult time letting any one in, because, as his wife says, he can’t deal with others emotions. Samantha is often nosey, sticking her proverbial nose where it doesn’t belong, and a constant attitude that begs to be more than just an OS, leaving her confused about her existence. Not to mention she gets jealous rather easily.
Because of the charisma that leaps off the screen and their flaws as individuals, Theodore and Samantha feel like actual people.
On top of that, the world in which “her” sets up is all-too familiar and yet so alluring. From the way in which artificial intelligence is used as tools and companions, to the letter writing company designed to help those who can’t fully express their emotions, down to the advancements in video games having characters that react to everything you say. It is so beautiful in its simplicity and innovative ideas.
That is probably the best way to describe “her.” Simple, yet innovative. It understands the human condition and interaction of people, but also introduces just how much technology as changed and evolved over the years, and how it will continue to evolve. It doesn’t shove that in our faces, but presents as a comforting way that shows that we can change alongside our technology.
That we may not have a perfect existence or be able to read an entire book in 2/10 of a second, but we can appreciate the joy that life can bring.
Final Grade: A
Categories: Movie Reviews