What happens when a man falls in love with his phone? That is the fundamental question that Spike Jonze explores in his new film, her. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, Chris Pratt and the voice of Scarlett Johansson, the movie follows the emotional relationship between Theodore Twombly (Phoenix) and his operating system, Samantha (Johansson). Watch the trailer after the jump and the read my review.
This is one of 2013’s best films and one of the best movies I have ever seen. What starts at such a simple (and some have told me, stupid) idea, becomes a movie with more emotion and love than most films today. I was 100 per cent invested in this relationship between a man and his phone. The highs made me smile and the lows made me sad. It was a crazy experience and for that alone I recommend it.
A big part of this movie is the script and Jonez is pretty much a guaranteed the best original screenplay Oscar for it. While it’s scattered with cliche, it didn’t bother me. And with one half of the relationship being entirely a voice, every single word Samantha says has to be carefully selected. And it is. Scenes that include the first meeting between Samantha and Theodore, a double date they go on with another couple and a very emotional scene in the bedroom all work because Jonze has written an honest and emotional script that I completely bought into, even if it’s really science fiction.
Another thing I liked about the story is how similar the movie world is to our own. This is science fiction and it does take place in a near-future Los Angeles, but there are only small differences between then and now. Theodore still rides public transit, people still go to the beach and physical mail is still delivered. The outfits are brighter, but wouldn’t look too out of place in today’s society. Besides much smarter computers and a very funny but offensive video game, there really isn’t much difference between now and this future. That really helped sell the idea that this is real and it could happen.
One last note on the script. It is hilarious. There are a lot of dramatic moments, but I was laughing quite a bit to the witty one-liners the characters deliver. I’ll go into it more further down, but don’t expect it to be a boring drama. There are many brighter moments too.
Now to the performances, which were another high point in this movie. In the lead, Joaquin Phoenix gives a great performance as Theodore. Especially since he is the only actor on screen for many of his scenes. Theodore is depressed, recently divorced, and working a crappy job writing letters for people. Life sucks for him and Phoenix really convinced me that he was a man looking for love anywhere. So when Samantha comes along with her charm and wit, Phoenix again is very good at making his falling for her believable. He is the innocent character here and his desperation for a companion requires a very delicate performance. Phoenix gives it.
Amy Adams is sadly underused here. She plays Amy, Theodore’s best friend, who has her own emotional problems. Her characters main purpose it seemed was to offer amazing advice just at the right time. “Falling in love is just a socially accepted form of insanity” is just one of her many of her great lines. However, Amy does get a nice arc to her character and for that, I am happy. It would have been nice to see her on screen more, but her role ended up being just as important as it needed to be, and I wouldn’t have changed any of it.
The supporting cast was pretty impressive all around. Chris Pratt has a small but memorable role as Theodore’s boss, with his loud and funny personality from Parks and Rec still just as effective here. Olivia Wilde plays a girl Theodore goes on a date with and she is perfectly cast. And finally, Rooney Mara has an interesting role as Theodore’s ex-wife. She is mostly silence in flashbacks, but has one amazing monologue that really puts into perspective how crazy this film’s romance really is. Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig get small, almost unnoticeable voice roles early on too, which was a pleasant surprise.
But there was one role in this movie that had the power to make or break it. Scarlett Johansson’s turn as Samantha is a career defining role that I feel she isn’t getting enough recognition for. Being entirely a voice role, she has to be very careful with how she says every single world and she pulls it off. This includes her charming introduction where she bluntly tells Theodore she picked the name Samantha by reading every book about baby names in less than a second. Or when she guides him blindly around a carnival. And especially in some more dramatic scenes near the end that I won’t spoil. I was completely caught up in this relationship because of Johansson’s performance, often forgetting Phoenix was along in a room without her. This would have been the perfect chance for the Academy to recognize a voice-only role, but alas it is not to be. Either way, Johansson’s performance here shows she has real acting chops and is more than a pretty face.
One other note. Karen O wrote a song for the movie called The Moon Song and it is lovely. A quiet duet that perfectly captures the relationship, it is actually sung by Samantha to help Theodore fall asleep. This is a competitive year for the best original song Oscar, but The Moon Song earned it’s nomination for sure.
My big conclusion about her is that it, along with 12 Years a Slave and Gravity, are three of the best movies I have ever seen. The reason: they all tell stories that can really only be told on screen. In the case of her, Johansson’s voice and how the other characters react, especially Theodore, to it is what makes the movie believeable. I wish we could see more original science fiction movies like this one. Not robots battling aliens, just the life of a human living in a futuristic world. This is an amazing movie and it deserves all the awards it will be getting. I highly recommend it.