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‘Her’ captivates audiences without being on screen

Published: Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Updated: Tuesday, January 14, 2014 02:01

 

Spike Jonze is one of those directors that doesn’t seem intimidated by a strange idea. 

From his work on the “Jackass” franchise to his sci-fi brain bender “Being John Malkovich” and Girl Skateboard’s classic videos “Yeah Right!” and “Pretty Sweet,” Jonze has demonstrated his flair for style, dramatic visuals and unusual concepts.

His latest undertaking, “Her” is no different. 

This time, Jonze takes on double duty by writing and directing. His film
tackles love in a technology-consumed 21st century.

Set in some sort of space-age, yet realistically tech-advanced future in which cell phones are less touch-screen and more an assistant, “Her” piques the audience’s interest by asking: what happens when a guy literally falls in love with his computer?

“Her” stars Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore, a morose, emotionally complex and out of touch divorcee who ghostwrites personal letters professionally. He tries out a new software, OS, which promises a highly intelligent personal assistant. Samantha, Theodore’s OS voiced by Scarlett Johansson, is like an advanced version of Siri. As the two get to know each other, something more than a platonic relationship develops.

In an environment cluttered with senselessly unfunny cash-milking sequels, Jonze introduces an original idea that’s just as far-fetched as it is plausible. Could a relationship with an operating system work? Is dating artificially intelligent software even a real relationship?

Phoenix’s performance in this film, which won a Golden Globe for Best Screenplay, is phenomenal. He remains alone on screen for most of the film, yet his development of a relationship with merely a voice is astonishing. While the chemistry between Theodore and Samantha is undeniable, it’s Phoenix’s physical acting that demands recognition. Theodore’s character wears his heart on his sleeve, and Phoenix’s dejected stroll and emotive facial expressions are what make Theodore so transparent and relatable. 

The chemistry between Theodore and Samantha is quite captivating, as Johansson’s charm and wit shine through her voicing of the character, showing her acting ability is based on more than just her looks.

Jonze develops a Wes Anderson-like sense of aesthetic style in “Her.” Theodore is often dressed in a soft red; a color that repeats thematically throughout the film. The modernly furnished pale-white set designs supplement the film’s tech-savvy futuristic setting. There’s so much aesthetic beauty to appreciate in this film.

Some movies’ pop music soundtrack can distract an audience from the story, but Jonze craftily employs Grammy-winning Arcade Fire to score an original soundtrack tailored to supplement the plot’s every mood and moment, and it works masterfully.

The film’s only downside is its unending sadness. While its concepts, aesthetics, and acting are very strong, “Her” isn’t a feel-good romantic comedy. Jonze explores romance and relationships from a very realistic perspective, but the whole thing can almost be viewed as a massive bummer. 

In-depth explorations of human emotions are something that has been lacking in recent Hollywood cinema, and this film is funny, tragic and smart enough to draw attention. While “The Wolf of Wall Street” shocked grandparents nationwide with endless drugs and breasts, “Her” has viewers looking inside themselves and challenging the possibilities of how technology is seen today. 

 

GRADE: B+

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