Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Her

The world is always a little different when viewed through the lens of Spike Jonze. He’s taken us inside the mind of John Malkovich, made orchids poetic and terrifying, and caused wild things to come vividly alive. His latest film, the enchanting, revelatory and all around perfect, Her, may contain his most profound vision yet. It’s a film set in the future, but the unique way it handles loss and love proves timeless. The film is all consuming, and once we’re engulfed, Her never teases to remove us from its gentle grip.

Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is lost. During the day, he excels as a writer of personal letters. In the near future, you see, people are too lazy to write letters to loved ones, so they hire guys like Theodore to do it for them. And Theodore is good. His letters are personal and kind, sensual and endearing. It is during the quiet nights that we come to know a different side of Theodore. We observe his loneliness and isolation. We watch as he stands in his high-rise apartment, looking out over a flourished downtown Los Angeles. Thinking, wondering.

Part of the audience’s melancholic understanding of Theodore is cemented in the fact that he doesn’t seem to want to be alone. He goes on the occasional date, he has a few friends, including his neighbor, Amy (Amy Adams), but in truth, his mind is on Catherine (Rooney Mara), the wife he’ll soon be divorced from. We get to know Catherine through silent snippets of their life together: finding love, supporting each other, falling out. Throughout the film, Jonze does a very interesting thing by showing Theodore interact mostly with just women. So it comes as no surprise that a woman will soon be his savoir.
There’s this new thing people are trying. A limitlessly intelligent Operating System (OS for short), that can help you live a better life. Theodore buys the software and soon into the installation, he’s asked the most important question of his life: would he like a male or female OS? Theodore chooses a female digital companion, and moments later, he meets Samantha (voiced to utter perfect by Scarlett Johansson). Samantha can do anything. Read at the speed of light, organize a day in a millisecond – all of the mundane tasks that Theodore needs help with. But Samantha soon offers more. A voice of understanding, an ear for support, an unlikely source of love. And this isn’t love for humor’s sake; this is love at its most profound. We believe in the love between Theodore and Samantha because the actors sell it so convincingly as a thing of utter beauty.

All of Spike Jonze’s films are propelled with a distinct visual style, but Her is certainly the most spectacularly visual film he’s made yet. The look of the picture is simply stunning, from Hoyte Van Hoytema’s personal and lively digital cinematography, to K.K. Barrett’s pastel production design, to Austin Gorg’s freeing art direction. These people deserve countless awards for turning downtown Los Angeles into Heaven on Earth. It’s growing increasingly rare for a film to evoke genuine emotion based simply on how it looks, but that’s the feeling that washes over you when you watch Her. It truly is a sight to behold.

I’ve never seen Joaquin Phoenix play a man quite like Theodore Twombly. Coming off the frightening drunken rage he so expertly brought to life in The Master, Phoenix’s restrained and heartfelt portrayal of Theodore is a most welcome change of pace. Theodore is Phoenix at his most vulnerable – you’ll be awe stricken by the level of which he’s emotionally exposed himself in this film.
As Samantha, it is clear that Jonze made a wise choice when he replaced Samantha Morton’s voice with Scarlett Johansson’s late in post-production. That couldn’t have been an easy decision to make, but I simply can’t imagine anyone playing Samantha better than Johansson. You can feel the desire in her every word. Still, I must admit that of all the women in the film, it was Mara who I found myself most drawn to. Much of this can be credited to editors Eric Zumbrunnen and Jeff Buchanan, who so perfectly timed the placement of Mara’s despondent flashbacks.

Spike Jonze is an essential voice in the world of cinema. He continually drafts distinctive stories and makes films that are truly his own. Some argue that film is a lost art; that all original ideas have been taken. I say, look no further that Jonze’s oeuvre. In fact, look no further than Her. This is as singular and insightful as film gets. A 

28 comments:

  1. Two words: Can't Wait!

    Gets me all the more excited for this film after reading your words. Sounds like the most romantic and genuinely touching film of the year.

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    1. It's So. Good. Very romantic, very touching, very unique. Can't wait to hear what you think.

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  2. I'm excited for this, the idea sounds creepy and yet amazing.

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    1. The trailer gives it a bit of a creepy vibe, but the film isn't creepy at all. Actually quite endearing. Hope you like it!

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  3. I... REALLY... WANT... TO... SEE... THIS.... I know it's coming to Atlanta next month so I just hope it's playing nearby.

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    1. I hope so too man. I really think you're going to dig this one.

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  4. Fine review Alex. This is creeping up my most anticipated list and I've not read a negative review of it yet. Really looking forward to it.

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    1. Thanks buddy. If you're a Spike Jonze fan, this one will really work for you. It's incredible.

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  5. I am dying to see this since I saw the first trailer. Great review Alex!

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  6. The first time I watched the trailer, I wasn't really into it...and then it just grew on me. I'm very excited to see this, and hopefully it doesn't disappoint!

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    1. The trailer never really did much for me. It kind of sells the film as a creepy love story, which it isn't at all. I hope it lives up to your excitement!

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  7. Obviously, us Britain dwellers have to wait until the 14th of February. Won't watch it on release day because that's Valentine's Day and I'll probably still be single, crying and eating two massive bars of chocolate whilst watching something sick, twisted and violent. Anyway, I'm getting fed up with these massive time frames between releases. We haven't we had a release of Fruitvale Station, guess I'll import the DVD from America or...well you can guess.

    Anyway, rant over...

    I am quite looking forward to this, almost everybody has been loving this like crazy

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    1. It is a damn shame that this industry is motivated by when studio heads think a movie can make the most money at any given time. So I agree, the time differences of release dates is very frustrating. You all often get blockbusters before we do, which means if I'm interested in seeing a big movie, I have to avoid Twitter for weeks so the flick isn't spoiled. Kind of a bummer.

      Still, this one is worth the wait.

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    2. That is true, we got Iron Man 3, The Avengers and Prometheus before America (which I was very smug about, haha!). The difference is however that's a week or two, for 12 Years a Slave it is almost three months.

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    3. Also very true. Two weeks for a blockbuster (which I'm not typically that excited about anyway) is cake compared to three months for a great, great film. Tough business.

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  8. I hate you so much right now. This is my most anticipated film and I can't see it until January!
    Super glad you liked it, and what a lovely detailed review. I'm even more excited now!

    Would you say its Phoenix's best performance to date?

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    1. Haha, well I'm glad you liked the review! I really hope you enjoy this one. It's remarkable.

      Also, I love that you're asking me to rank stuff! I suppose right now my top 5 Phoenix would be:

      5. Walk the Line
      4. To Die For
      3. I'm Still Here (performance art at its most committed)
      2. Her
      1. The Master

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  9. What a lovely review! You just made me even more excited to see it. Plus, I had no idea Samatha Morton was originally cast. I wonder why he replaced her?

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    1. Thanks Brittani :)

      I read an interview with Jonze and he basically said that, very late in editing, he had to face the difficult fact that Morton's performance simply wasn't working. I can't imagine the heartbreak he had to go through to recast that voice so late in the game. It would be fucking devastating. I love Samantha Morton, but like I said, I think Jonze made the right choice here.

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  10. I really cannot wait to see this one. I like unusual love stories and I'm very curious to hear Johannson's work - it must be insanely amazing to gather such praise from so many critics.

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    1. It is a very unique a commanding voice performance. I loved it. I can't wait for you to review this film. I know the film isn't coming your way for a while, but I think you'll like it!

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    2. Actually I'll be seeing this and The Wolf of Wall Street in 2 weeks :)

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  11. Dying to see this! Honestly, I figured Johansson would be a nominee for me when I saw the trailer. Looking forward to scoping out the performances in this flick.

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    1. I think you'll love it. She's great in it, no question. One of the best voice performances of recent memory.

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  12. Loved this film. I haven't stopped thinking about it since I left the theater last Saturday and I've seen two other films since (Wolf of Wall Street and Llewyn Davis). Spike Jonze is now cemented as one of today's great directors.

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    1. Nice man, love that you loved it. I haven't been able to get it out of my head either. Jonze is such a visionary, I admire his films so much.

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