If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear that every time Spike Jonze releases a movie, he’s targeting me as his core audience type. When Being John Malkovich came out, I was studying film at the University of Michigan and attended a free campus screening of the film; Ann Arbor film majors ate that film up! When Adaptation came out, I had just begun struggling to write my first and still as of yet unfinished novel. Where the Wild Things Are was one of my favorite children’s books growing up. Now with Her, he takes aim at my self-proclaimed geekdom with a film about a man who literally falls in love with his technology. The only problem is that while it seems like every one of those films should have been suited just for me, for one reason or another, I only really liked Adaptation. Fortunately, it seems like Jonze and I are back in alignment as Her is one of the most imaginative love stories since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Her stars Joaquin Phoenix as the odd and appropriately named Theodore Twombly, a name that practically invokes the characters of Dr. Seuss. This very well could be Jonze’s intention, as Her succeeds more as a fantasy children’s tale for adults than Where the Wild Things Are ever did. Set in the very near future, Twombly works for the web company, beautifulhandwrittenletters.com where he is paid to weave the events of real couples’ lives into artistically poetic love letters that are then sent unbeknownst to their recipients.
The irony is palpable as Twombly’s personal life is still reeling from his recent divorce, even to the point of sabotaging a sure thing with a prospective lover, played by Olivia Wilde. Instead, Twombly spends his evenings playing holographic video games and remembering what his life was like when he was happily married. Enter Samantha ( voiced by Scarlet Johansson), the whimsically playful voice of his new computer operating system, designed to exist as a consciousness that is so intuitive that it understands and knows you on a virtually human level. It is with Samantha that Twombly is able to open up and real feelings of passion, love, and connection soon follow.
Jonze has written and directed a fine hypothetical commentary on love in a modern world. Never has the question, “Can romantic love exist in a vacuum?” been so cinematically explored. What should feel absurd and ridiculous is made to feel thoughtful and reluctantly authentic thanks to pitch perfect performances from Phoenix and Johansson. In one scene where Samantha attempts to physicalize their relationship in a very creative but creepy way, the film achieves true greatness in the style of warped kind of Frankenstein story.
Jonze truly has created a monster here, and it is one that is surprisingly refreshing, creative, and tonally apprehensive. There is no doubt that if Apple announced tomorrow that it is releasing the OS1, thousands of people would be blindly grinning through the streets as they share their deepest thoughts and secrets with their virtual lovers. Stories already exist of people who abandon their lives to live fake lives in virtual worlds like World of Warcraft or Second Life. Jonze puts a magnifying glass on this idea and shows us how close we are to shutting ourselves into this type of cocoon-like existence.
Keeping this film from completely falling down the rabbit hole is Amy Adams as Twombly’s friend and neighbor, Amy, another symbolic name – because it’s REAL! Adams continues her quest to be the female Kevin Bacon (more on that in my American Hustle review), but she also grounds this film and prevents it from getting too far in the disbelief column. Her is a cautionary fairy tale that is effortlessly engaging and easily Jonze’s best film yet. A-
Her is rated R and has a running time of 2 hours. Her was recently nominated for three Oscars including best picture.