Once again I was faced with expectations which were through the roof, what with rave reviews for a science fiction film, no less. Thankfully, this was one of the times I was not disappointed.
Her is an amazing, wise and wonderful little film. I say ‘little’ because it feels small, it feels indie, it feels European (it is 'indie' but it's distributed by Warner and they have promoted it to death). Those are all good things. It also feels like the work of a genius. I knew Spike Jonze, the writer and director of Her, was quirky and smart but this is by far his best work. It doesn't hurt that he was able to get Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams and Scarlett Johansson to play their roles brilliantly. This is a film which requires perfect acting.
I would wish that viewers know nothing about Her when they walk into the theatre, but, alas, even I could not keep from knowing the basics of the plot, given the months of trailers. So I will state those basics: We are in the near future and our protagonist (Theodore, played by Phoenix), who is still recovering from a devastating separation (it looks like she left him), falls in love with a computer operating system named Samantha (voice provided by Johansson).
Her is pure romance, but the sci-fi framework gives Jonze not only the opportunity to create a rather unusual romance, but also to satirize our smartphone culture. Almost everywhere Theodore looks, someone is looking at, and talking to, their smartphone. People have forgotten how to conduct relationships with real face-to-face human beings. Theodore, whose ex-wife accuses him of never showing emotion and trying to keep her emotions in check, has the job of writing emotional letters on behalf of people who either don’t have the time or the ability to write such letters themselves; an ironic twist that asks us where we are heading.
While the social commentary is insightful and thought-provoking, the heart of Her is the relationship that develops between Theodore and Samantha and what that has to say to the nature of relationships in the 21st century. I will say no more about that relationship, except that I was constantly astounded by the quality and cleverness of Jonze’s writing in this dialogue-heavy film (this is a ‘slow’ film and has virtually nothing one can call action). I will, however, draw attention to the way Her was filmed, namely with lots of close-ups so that we can see every nuance of expression on Theodore’s or Amy’s (Adams) face. This highlights so clearly the difference between face-to-face communication and face-to-machine communication, and yet …
I won’t recommend Her to everyone (it isn’t rated R (14A) for nothing), but I loved it. Her gets **** and is likely to be my second-favourite film of 2013 (my top ten is coming on Monday).