Saturday, December 14, 2013

Not Bending The World As Much As We Think, Why Her Is The Best Film Of The Year!

The Good: Excellent acting, Intriguing plot, Interesting characters
The Bad: Somewhat oppressive tone
The Basics: Her is a smart, clever film that has a lonely man bonding with his smartphone’s operating system and developing real love for the artificial life form.

A few days ago, my wife and I celebrated our four and three quarter year anniversary of our marriage. Even though it was an obscure anniversary, we continue to give gifts to one another and she actually surprised me by getting me the Blu-Ray of Where The Wild Things Are (reviewed here!). I was the only person I knew who actually liked the movie and my wife got it for me to connect me to a youthful sensibility I sometimes lack. So, I was actually primed to take in Spike Jonze’s latest film, Her . . . and I know that I will not be the only person I know who loves this film. Her is smart, quirky, and deep, instantly reminiscent of Jonze’s Being John Malkovich in tone and weirdness.

Her is released as Oscarbait, but while the studios might be marketing it toward award season, there is a sense of wry observation and universal loneliness that would have made it the film of the year regardless of when it was released. While films like Gravity (reviewed here!) have been leaving audiences marveled for the spectacle they bring to the big screen, it has lacked something beyond the confines of the story it tells. Spike Jonze has never been limited in that way and Her is no exception. Her tells a story set in a slightly sideways view of the world, but resonates with genuine human emotions and a story that is far less quirky (and much more insightful) than one might think from its plot.

Theodore is a professional transcriber for where he spends his days handwriting affectionate letters for customers. He is going through a rough divorce, though Catherine has clearly moved on from him, and he is lonely. Outside work, he spends time with his friend Amy, who spends her free time playing an online game where she earns points for being a good mother in the virtual world. Theodore’s own outlet with the virtual world or artificial intelligences comes when he activates his new operating system for his smartphone. Samantha talks to Theodore and he finds in the responsive program a companion more than a technological tool.

As Theodore asks his phone questions and responds to Samantha’s observations, he starts to bond with Samantha the way he would with an actual person. Theodore begins to become emotionally entangled with Samantha and that eases his loneliness. But as Theodore develops the relationship, he is forced to wrestle with the feelings he is has for Amy, Catherine, Samantha, and, perhaps most importantly, himself.

Her had a familiar quality to it; the emotional distance and sense of connection coming through technological devices is a similar plot to this year’s A Perfect Men (reviewed here!). The sense of familiarity also resonates for anyone who saw and understood A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (reviewed here!); Samantha in Her is treated like a life form in some very real ways. Interestingly, the elements that seem familiar combine to create something that is remarkable fresh.

The thing is, Her seems audacious and original in its plotting and set-up, but Spike Jonze drives the movie with a character who is easy to empathize with and a tone that is universal (though hardly pleasant). Theodore seems to meet the stereotype of being a smart man who is socially or emotionally disconnected, with limited ability to express the depths of his feelings. While Jonze created yet another smart character who clearly feels, he is put on the spot to define his emotions and falls down. Her might use a technological conceit, but it explores a complicated series of emotions and has something to say about relationships that is seldom brought to the screen with such realism.

While there are moments that get bogged down in the oppressive tone inherent to loneliness, Her succeeds because it balances the loneliness with the excitement of the discovery that comes with a new relationship. While there is a somewhat bipolar nature to the plot, the overall cinematic experience is surprisingly enjoyable.

A lot of the credit for the success of Her goes to Joaquin Phoenix. While I have never been a fan of Phoenix’s works, in Her he performs with an incredible range of emotions that is uncommon for him. Phoenix plays the quiet loneliness of Theodore’s initial character exceptionally well, but it is when he transforms into a bright-eyed, eager man outside his home that Phoenix gives us something completely new. I cannot recall a time when I’ve seen Phoenix on screen smiling and portraying a truly vibrant human being.

In a similar fashion, Amy Adams’s role in Her is unlike others she has had. More than just appearing with disheveled hair, Adams uses her time on the screen to play a type of obsession she has not played in her other works (at least none I have ever seen).

Her has a touching human message and it is delivered expertly in a way that makes it a film bound to stand the tests of time.

For other works featuring Olivia Wilde, please check out my reviews of:
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
The Words
People Like Us
In Time
The Change-Up
Cowboys And Aliens
Tron: Legacy
The Next Three Days
Year One
House, M.D. - Season Four


For other film reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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