Her: Delayed Review

her_xlrgReviewed at gunpoint by Alec R. Lee

Skynet wants our hearts before it wants our heads.

A note first, if I may.  Originally, I had intended to review the foreign language film Blue is the Warmest Color first.  Why?  Well, it made quite a huge stir at the Cannes Film Festival last year and won an absolute crapload of awards.  Critics were raving about it and saying it was one of the best love stories of the decade.  So, I made some time during the weekend to watch it.  I couldn’t even make 30 minutes.  It was just not interesting to me.  I’m not quite the biggest fan of French films, or the French language, or France in general so I had a hard time trying to adjust to the film.  On top of that, I knew ahead of time that some of the love scenes would be fairly explicit, but they failed to mention HOW explicit they got and how long they ran for.  Seriously, you don’t need a sex scene to take up 10 minutes of the film, and you certainly don’t need three of these scenes to get the point across that yes, two people are in love and the sex represents how much they love each other.  Well, I did not need to see an erect penis flopping around for a full minute, or two girls sixty-nining and going to town on the holiest of holies (very punny).  Even more baffingly, director Steven Spielberg was one of the judges at Cannes and said about Blue that, “The film is a great love story that made all of us feel privileged to be a fly on the wall.”  They have a word for that, Steven, it’s called porn.  It was just a boring movie with thirty minutes of porn sprinkled in.  Regardless of what people are raving about Blue is the Warmest Color, don’t listen to them, they just watched it for the porn.

Hm.  That went longer than I imagined.  Sorry about that detour.  So, after that debacle, I immediately watched another romance film that wasn’t just another porno with boring.  Her (stylized as her) is Spike Jonze’s latest film, and if you don’t know much about Spike Jonze, let me learn you a few things.  Jonze is one of those directors that has some completely out-of-the-box ideas.  A good example of his work would be the film Being John Malkovitch, a film that follows a man who discovers a portal that allows him to control the actor John Malkovitch for a certain period of time.  It was quite an original achievement and still holds up well to this day.  Other films that Jonze has directed are Adaptation and Where the Wild Things are, the latter being quite unique for portraying the imagination of a child in the most realistic way possible (and was criticized because many reviewers didn’t “get” that part). He also co-created Jackass, oddly fitting for such a man with a unique vision.  And now Jonze has presented Her, his latest film which has been well received and is up for consideration for several Oscars this year.

Her is the story of a man named Theodore who is just separated from his wife and is depressed from her departure from his life.  He works as a ghostwriter at a card company, crafting cards on behalf of other people’s experiences and stories (this takes place in the near future).  One day, Theodore buys a new operating system that boasts an artificial intelligence that adopts a female identity.  The AI identifies itself as “Samantha” and Theodore is rather astounded by the OS’s complexity and how natural Samantha sounds.  Samantha, gaining intelligence through experience, starts becoming more and more human, and Theodore becomes more and more romantically interested, and Samantha responds to his feelings as well.  This culminates in the two of them getting into a “relationship,” so to speak, as AI-human romances in the future are not entirely uncommon, surprisingly.  It was also interesting to witness how people responded to the fact that Theodore was dating (to put it bluntly) a computer.  Aside from his ex-wife, everyone else acts intrigued or nonchalant to this fact.  My favorite reaction being something along these lines:

“Bring your girlfriend along, man.  Who is she?”

“She’s an AI.”

“Great, so she can come!”

It’s moments like those that give this alternate future a rather hopeful outlook as people here are more mature and more understanding than what we’re at now.  There’s no discrimination, only acceptance.  There doesn’t even seem to be any litter in this future.  What has changed for the worse are the video games, as one in-game character spouts nothing but swear words back at the player during the game (most likely a jab at the youths of our world being incapable of forming a coherent sentence without inserting a disparaging comment towards another’s mother while online).  The film does develop in areas you are not going to expect because Jonze is treading new ground here.  I mean, what are you going to expect by dating an AI?  This is a whole new ball park here and the end result is fascinating.

Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore in Her and it has to be the man’s best role.  Phoenix eloquently portrays the heartbreak over losing a lost love then going to happiness at being in a relationship and everything in between.  The damn Academy Awards can go any which way at this point.  Scarlett Johansson plays Samantha, which is pretty much the trickiest role in the movie.  Playing Samantha required the use of a voice that is warm, compassionate, and sexy.  Johansson fills all of those categories and because she doesn’t have to limit any emotion in her performance, due to the fact that her character is designed to emulate human behavior, she feels like an actual human.  It’s absolutely uncanny.  (I also like the idea of faceless performances as they require the viewer to bond with a character despite not having a visual reference, which places all of the performance on the voice itself.  With the right actor, this concept can be pulled off with fantastic results.  Examples of this include GLadOS from Portal and Tali from Mass Effect).  Amy Adams gets a few crucial scenes with Phoenix as she is his link to the physical side of relationships as they question each other about the merits of, um…inter-media love?  Rooney Mara and Chris Pratt show up in Her as well.  Olivia Wilde gets a scene all to herself and Kristen Wiig has a hilarious voiceover cameo as a person having phone sex with Theodore.  Overall, solid cast.  Paychecks earned.

Her is an example of how Jonze can present a ludicrous idea and take it so seriously that it makes sense.  Her is that rare film that sounds completely insane on paper but the actions between the characters help ease the audience into this weird, weird, world that they live in.  It’s well made, well acted, and Arcade Fire’s score for the film is extremely effective…and I don’t even like Arcade Fire (partly because of the droves of “hipsters” that latch onto them) but their music composed for the film paints visual pictures for the mind to enjoy and the movie helps exploit that fact.  I enjoy films that dare to take risks because then they at least won’t be stale to the audience.  With a film like Her, there is no way that you can call this safe, and that’s the point.

Final Score: 87/100

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