There have been a lot of powerful, Oscar worthy individual performances this year, from Matthew McConaughey to Leonardo DiCaprio to Bruce Dern. Add Joaquin Phoenix to this list for what is one of the most unique and bold ideas of the year. A unique idea doesn’t always translate to great cinema though. So did ‘Her’?
Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is depressed and struggling with his pending divorce from his beautiful wife Catherine (Rooney Mara). His friend Amy (Amy Adams) and his manager Paul (Chris Pratt) are his only real social contacts, but when he signs up to be one of the first users of new operating system designed to simulate human consciousness. However, things get complicated when he and his OS, Samantha (Scarlett Johansson: voice) begin to fall in love.
Spike Jonze made his solo writing debut when he penned the screenplay for ‘Her’ and to start with a work so unique and bold can be very risky, but with big risks come big rewards sometimes. It is a plot almost entirely centered around one man and his relationship with a voice (a very sexy one, as it happens) and for that reason it is very important that the film captures all the little things. I always assume that when a writer is able to put together such a work, that it must come from a very personal place.
Well, wherever it came from for Jonze, it really is a marvel to behold. Every moment of the film seems to have so much meaning, whether it be a major plot point or a quite moment where Phoenix is sitting alone. As the story unfolds the film manages to capture everything flawlessly. Reflection, loneliness, falling in love, conversation, relationships. It is all in there, and it is all done with flawless, subtle perfection.
The acting here is superb. Joaquin Phoenix is brilliant, as he always tends to be. He set the screen on fire recently in ‘The Master’ but this performance was different. He played a different character than I’ve seen from him in the past. A friendlier, nicer guy with an energy that gets released throughout the film. It is right up there with any performance this year.
The supporting cast is equally fantastic, in smaller roles. Amy Adams. Rooney Mara. Chris Pratt even gives an unexpected, fantastic performance to continue to success of ‘Park & Rec’ stars. Having such great actors in smaller roles really does a lot for a film like this, and is crucial when the central lead is so powerful. It prevents the film from getting lost in that one performance.
Of course, the floating Scarlett Johannson voice has to get a mention. Her voice is all we get, but she does an incredible job and her entire role and her development as a character and a ‘person’ is crucial in the films themes, and also seems to mirror the development of Theodore. Or at least it runs parallel.
To go with a great screenplay and great acting is great cinematography and a wonderful soundtrack. The music lends so well to the mood of the film, and it is no surprise that the music was Oscar nominated for Best Original Score and Best Original Song.
What I really loved about the film though, was it;s incredible relevance to our present day and generation, and all the themes it was able to weave into this seemingly simple story about one man. Almost dystopian style themes, about the joys of personalization, but also the dangers it possesses. Think about the things companies like Amazon are doing right now, and the OS Samantha is almost just a more advanced version of that.
Think about the themes of cellular technology removing real, person to person communication from our lives. Hundreds of people weaving in and out of one another in the street, bumping one another, barely aware of each other’s existence as they talk to a machine through an earpiece. This is presented to us so effortlessly on screen, appearing so real that we don’t even stop and realize that it is set many years from now. That my friends, is just amazing, amazing cinema.
‘Her’ is like no other film you’ll see this year, and although it may be an Oscar long shot, and I might not even select it myself, I would not be surprised or upset if it won. It is a very complex film, covering endless and relevant themes in our society from technology to relationships. It does so in a seemingly simple way that has more charm than anything I’ve seen all year. Two thumbs up.
P.S – What a freaking year for movies folks. I can’t believe how many 8’s and 9’s we’re dishing out this Oscar season. Keep it up movie makers. Oh and how sexy is that Scarlett Johansson voice?