Friday, 28 February 2014

Her

Academy Award Nominations: 5

  • Best Picture
  • Best Original Screenplay (Spike Jonze)
  • Best Original Score (William Butler, Owen Pallett)
  • Best Original Song ('The Moon Song')
  • Best Production Design (K.K. Barrett, Gene Serdena)

Theodore Twombly is a lonely, introverted man going through a divorce. Luckily, it's 2025, and operating systems now have artificial intelligence which can fill the voids in everyone's lives. So, when Theodore buys OS1, he immediately strikes up a friendship with the OS which begins to call itself 'Samantha'. As he gets closer to Samantha, his work writing personalised love letters for people who can't be bothered improves, as do his friendships in the real world as he becomes more extrovert. However, after a meeting with his soon-to-be ex-wife, he doubts the reality of a relationship with a piece of software, especially when it hires someone to act as a human surrogate...

15 years ago, Spike Jonze made one of my favourite films of all time. Being John Malkovich is a wonderfully weird and surreal film from the pen of Charlie Kaufman, so to be able to translate Kaufman's eccentricity onto screen and do it successfully exemplifies why Jonze was given so much praise. The crazy thing is, after Being John Malkovich, he teamed up with Kaufman again for Adaptation, which is equally as weird, if not even weirder. Another one of my favourite films, Adaptation showed that Jonze had some creative eccentricity in him himself; it wasn't just Kaufman's script that made Adapatation and Malkovich wonderfully quirky and enjoyable. After his collaborations with Kaufman, it took him 7 years to come back with Where the Wild Things Are, based on the children's book. Here, he didn't just direct but also co-wrote the screenplay, and showed he had other talents too. Now, he's back with Her, his first solo screenplay about a man who falls in love with his OS. I wonder where he got his inspiration from...

Her is one of those films that comes with stigmas attached to it. It's written and directed by Spike Jonze, it stars Joaquin Phoenix. Translation: It's going to be one of those quirky, indy films that's over pretentious. Well, it's not. Considering the subject matter, it stays pretty well grounded, it never goes over the top at any time which only goes to make this entire film feel creepily realistic. This could happen in 10 years time. The entire film is extremely poetic, the screenplay is littered with winding monologues and love letters and poetic speeches, but it fits the tone of the film so it never feels pretentious. The direction is top notch, and perfectly shows Jonze's aptitude as a director; there's almost certainly a big project coming his way soon. The film looks great too, as if the film had been shot through an Instagram filter. The cinematography and the editing work together to create a feel for the film that's almost dream-like, like this entire film is a giant fantasy whilst staying firmly rooted in reality. Where Jonze chooses not to accentuate the ludicrosity of the plot in the action on screen or the performance or the dialogue, it's certainly accentuated in its visual style.

The entire film is pulled together by a good central performance by Joaquin Phoenix. Phoenix is good, but the problem is he's playing one of those characters who you can't really relate to. Theodore Twombly is introverted and a bit creepy, there's evidence of underlying psychological problems caused by his impending divorce, and he falls in love with some software. The moustache alone is enough to put you off. What works in Phoenix's performance, though, is his relationship with a disembodied voice from Scarlett Johansson. He's able to make a single performance with an inanimate object feel like something real, so definitely deserves credit for that. Amy Adams makes a lovely few appearances as Theodore's friend Amy, a character who mirrors Theodore and is destined to be the 'perfect match' for Theodore; it's just as shame she's not on screen more than she is.

One of the best things about Her, though, is its soundtrack. A quirky film has been given a wonderfully quirky soundtrack by Arcade Fire, it's a perfect match between band and film/director. The soundtrack moves between diagetic and non-diagetic states constantly throughout the film, and it really fits in well with what's happening on screen, you can tell a lot of hard work was put into getting the tone of the music correct. Another of the good things is the emotion the piece evokes. One of the few, but fiercest, criticisms of the film is that it keeps the audience at an emotional distance because of the main character and the nature of the relationship portrayed in the film. I would wholeheartedly disagree with that statement. Although Theodore is hard to pinpoint emotionally, the best scenes in the film are when he shares a moment with Samantha, whether it's positive or negative. The structure and content of the screenplay have made sure that an emotional bond is established and reinforced between man and technology, to the point where the last 20 minutes are actually truly heartbreaking, even I was amazed by the strength of the screenplay.

Overall, Her is a wonderfully quirky and melancholic and melodramatic and unique and heartbreaking and entertaining and joyful film to watch and enjoy. That's a lot of adjectives all at once, but there's no way to really narrow down what exactly this film is. It's a Spike Jonze film, that's about as best as I can do. It's got Jonze written all over it, both in its writing and its direction. Joaquin Phoenix is confident yet unsettling in the main role, and Scarlett Johansson is surprisingly good as a disembodied voice. As much as this film could be seen as a warning about where humanity is headed with its relationship with technology, it never veers off its light-hearted romance path. Some people have called this a science fiction. These people are wrong. It's a romance about a blossoming relationship, it just so happens that one half of the relationship is an operating system called Samantha.

Rating: ****

Her was released on 14th February 2014 and is still being shown in cinemas.