It’s almost inconceivable to me that I’ll experience a finer 2013 film in the coming weeks than “Her”. I went into this already believing director Spike Jonze to be a super-talent, so “Her” most likely being an exceptional movie was a given. But I was unprepared for just how revelatory, and how exquisitely calibrated this motion picture would be. Spike Jonze is incredibly in touch with the nuances, obsessions and contradictions of human behavior. “Her” is spot-on with its depiction of the track of current society(in what appears to be a not-too-distant future setting), and the path down which social media appears to be taking us. Do we even know how to relate to other human beings anymore? It’s a question I ask myself lately whenever someone looks down at their i-Phone while I’m talking to them. What would Emily Post have to say about this trend, I ponder? People are lost without their devices in this early 21st century. Is it really that much of a stretch to imagine someone actually falling in love with an artificial personality? Other writer/directors attempt to insert reality into their characters. But Spike Jonze KNOWS. It’s almost a little frightening.
Theodore Twombly(Joaquin Phoenix, awards-worthy work two years in a row now)is a man whose career involves writing warm-hearted, “personal” letters for other people. He is lauded by his superiors for being one of the best in the business at creating words for strangers to express themselves, whether upon someone having just completed a great achievement, lost a loved one or celebrated an anniversary. And what’s ironic about is that after a painful divorce the year prior, Theodore himself is unable to begin a new relationship, instead resorting to unsatisfactory late-night phone line sex in lieu of the fervent pursuit of a new lady in his life. Then Theodore is introduced to “Her”. “Her” is a brand new OS(operating system), that is a form of artificial intelligence that communicates with you through an earpiece and further interacts through your handheld device. Theodore purchases his OS “Samantha”(is the beautiful Scarlett Johansson’s greatest performance one where she is invisible? I think so, yeah.), and despite having no physical manifestation of her whatsoever, quickly falls in love. Theodore and Samantha are completely in tune with one another: they laugh at the same things, they find similarity in their likes and intrigues, and they really “hit it off”. Soon, they are even going on “double-dates” with friends—and they find that Samantha is perfect for him. But then a couple in his building that Theodore is buddies with(Matt Letscher as Paul, and an uncanny species of chameleon called Amy Adams, in a dowdy, complete-180 performance when held against what she gave us in “American Hustle”—she’s awesome)suffer a breakup despite seeming like the perfect match. And after setting the tone of Theodore being terribly lonely in a world where people would rather communicate through their tablets and phones, Mr. Twombly begins to realize that he may not be as isolated as he thinks he is. And Samantha may be acquiring some new-found friends, as well.
“Being John Malkovich”, “Adaptation” and “Where the Wild Things Are” all made my Top Ten films list in their respective years(1999, 2002 and 2009—so you don’t have to check). How in the world is this man so achingly perceptive? What kind of muse visits Spike’s noggin in the middle of the night? I don’t understand how he gets it, but make no mistake that he does. It’s one thing to listen to the way people talk, and a completely different animal to interpret it for the screen. Add to the praise that “Her” has an absolutely crisp and vital look(cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema), and contains an edit that is trimmed of all possible fat(“razor and block” work by Eric Zumbrunnen and Jeff Buchanan). But I believe the movie would have remained just as powerful if Jonze had decided to make it 80 minutes long(instead of 124), and shot it in grainy black-and-white. In other words, there is no mystery as to who the man behind the curtain is. Spike Jonze’s skill level is uncanny. There’s a brief bit mid-picture—during a montage of all things—showing Theodore having a conversation with a virtual reality game character while sitting in his living room. It’s stunning in its simplicity and its rightness. It makes perfect kooky sense that Mr. Twombly would become fast friends after their early film introduction. That doesn’t make it any less revelatory, melancholic—or creepy. This is adult, romantic, inventive, heady stuff. Spike Jonze is one of our greatest contemporary helmers. And he’s given us what is almost certainly my favorite film of 2013. Grade: A
next review up: “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”