JC’s review published on Letterboxd:
This film has completely worked it's magic on me, in such a way that it's taken me 5 days to coherently collect my thoughts. I absolutely loved this movie and believe it to be director Spike Jonze's best yet. While I do appreciate his 2002 film Adaptation a bit more due to an ensemble of incredible performances, Her has director Spike Jonze putting all his best elements together into one beautiful piece of art.
Joaquin Phoenix, with his last two films, is absolutely on fire since his career resurrection following his I'm Still Here documentary. With his incredible turn as Freddie Quell in The Master still fresh in my mind, he had to be entirely convincing in a 180-degree turn here as Theodore. On screen for just about the entire 2hr duration, his loneliness & vulnerability is consistently present in every scene. Spike Jonze makes a great choice by having the camera right in Theodore's face, utilizing Joaquin's natural ability for a wide range of emotion while doing very little. He reminds of Walter Matthau, and most recently Michael Shannon, where there's plenty of character and mileage in his face that works perfectly in a complex role like this.
Where this film could easily falter is in the role of the artificially intelligent operating system, an OS1 self-named Samantha voiced by Scarlett Johansson with whom Theodore falls in love with. As the viewer, we envision what Samantha might look and act like in human form right along with Theodore - and because she's voiced by one of the sexiest women in the world, we don't blame him, as weird as it inititally seems, to fall in love with his computer! Luckily, this is Scarlett's best work to date - ironic to me being that she's best known for her looks and often gets heckled for her not-so-feminine voice. From her first spoken hello!, she brings an immediate sense of credibility and charm, and it's entirely believable Theodore would fall for such a warm and genuine personality. I don't know how this would've worked with Samantha Morton as the voice, but I'm glad they made the switch. With a more familiar and recognized voice that Scarlett has, what is a foreign and strange concept becomes easier to latch onto and warm up to.
The true star throughout this movie, however, is the film's tone. It is set in the not-so-distant future where, going back to having a foreign concept feel familiar, many of these technological advances don't feel all that far away. As our present society becomes more and more dependant on our gadgets and detached instant connectivity, it makes sense for a character like Theodore to be unable to cope with stresses of a real-liferelationship. He's shown walking through the streets and riding on subway cars surrounded by people who say nothing while immersed in their mobile devices. Worth noting as well are the choice of a colourful palette and bright shots throughout the film, often pointing upwards into the sky and the beaming sunlight. Josh Larsen, in his Filmspotting review, said it best that the "overall color scheme consists of faded pastel hues, sort of like candy hearts that have gotten old and lost their pop". It's a subtle touch but certainly reflective of a society losing their 'pop' and it's touch on humanity.
What constitutes true love? What requirements are necessary? Samantha is able to bring care, trust, joy, optimism, and passion into Theodore's life that he wasn't able to get otherwise. The film is unique in it's approach of welcoming this technological breakthrough with open arms where most films would immediately ostracize any notion of having such a relationship. This is dealt with in many aspects and in such detail that it allows this sci-fi love story to be fully realized and immersive. Like previous films in Jonze's filmography, particuarly Adaptation, it does suffer from a messy ending and it's ambition may be too great for it's own good. Even certain aspects, such as Theodore's letter-writing occupation, seem a tad on the nose. Steven Soderbergh came on to help Jonze with trimming the film down and removing unnecessary plotpoints (including an in-film documentary with Chris Cooper). For me, all this is easily overlooked with such an original concept and meticulous execution at the forefront - especially in a world where sequels and remakes are such a safe and mundane choice in Hollywood.
With great talent comes great opportunity, and Joaquin Phoenix managed to land a role having intimate relationships with many of the sexiest leading actresses in Hollywood today! Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, and Amy Adams all are great in supporting roles and flesh out this futuristic Los Angeles with much more than just their looks. Portia Doubleday is also notable as a surrogate date as is Theodore's boss Paul played by Chris Pratt (also, be on the lookout for the always welcomed voice of Brian Cox). This fantastic ensemble cast along with the film's unique take on love makes this one of the best of 2013 and, for me, an instant classic. This, along with films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Punch-Drunk Love, is why I love cinema the way I do.