Sunday 19 January 2014


(Spike Jonze, 2013)

Her feels, well...almost perfect.
Beautifully judged and finely emotionally calibrated, it manages to work as a simple, surprisingly conventional love story (following the arc of a love affair, from meet cute to emotional parting) while also indulging in an accessible, interesting investigation into modern communication, and how it has affected our relationships.
Set in a very-near future (with exteriors shot in Shanghai, making great use of that City's now Epic skyline), Her follows Theodore Twombley (Joaquin Phoenix), who works at a firm writing personal, emotional letters for clients. Recently separated from his wife (Rooney Mara), Theodore is isolated and lonely, but when he buys new software, he finds himself falling in love with his Operating System, named Samantha (voiced brilliantly by Scarlett Johansson). Samantha is evolving and intuitive, and their relationship has many difficulties, all of them compounded when she begins to grow beyond Theodore's understanding...
The future world of Her is only a few short steps from our own. Here is a world where everyone is in semi-constant communion with the device they carry around, where people appear to talk to themselves in public, and computers respond to voice commands (this is a world seemingly devoid of keyboards). The sublime production design and, more particularly, cinematography (by Hoyte van Hoytema) emphasise the flat, thin light of modern-day Los Angeles, and find personal spaces full of vibrant, earthy colours and lots of natural light. There are many witty little details - from the computer game Theodore plays to the LA transit system in which he travels and thinks - all of which help ground this story and enable Jonze and his more-than-capable cast to ensure it delivers an emotional experience.
And it feels more personal and emotional than any of his other films (which is saying something, given how oddly powerful his work can be). Much of this is down to Phoenix, now firmly ensconced as his generation's greatest leading man, here making Theodore vulnerable, interesting, poetic and also self-destructive. He is very much a "Character", but it is the film's greatest triumph that the audience can feel the universal emotions of his relationship with Samantha. The warmth and excitement of the early stages giving way to difficulty and complex growth, then the final, desperately sad stages. This film could be about any relationship.
But it is more interesting, funnier, more moving, because Jonze chose this setting, chose - in the era of Apple and Siri - to tell this particular story. Not many films can be quite so entertaining and beautiful yet just this thought-provoking. Her manages it effortlessly.

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