Sean Cordy’s review published on Letterboxd:
Few films can be as affecting as Spike Jonze‘s latest creation, Her. It’s an epic meditation of life and the love that accompanies it. Jonze creates this film in the near future, not as a means of predicting what our society will be like in a few years (though it is a side-note), rather, as a medium to let us see love in new light. We wouldn’t think that this romance between a man and his operating system (OS) would be possible now, but to see it in something a few years down the road (where artificial intelligence may be more abundant) is perfectly acceptable and creates one of the most abstract love stories of recent memory.
Jonze creates a world not unlike our own. It’s stripped of the dystopic society that so many other futuristic films imagine (i.e. Blade Runner). Rather, he changes little things like how the characters pull their pants up higher and have no belts, or how cubicles are see through and colorful, and taking away the devices we use to control computers. The world building of this film is quick and precise, allowing us to delve into the love life of Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix).
Theodore is a letter writer – writing love, condolence,and thanks letters for other people that are all too busy to do it themselves. We see that he’s not the only one though, there’s a plethora of writers. When we listen to Theodore write these letters via his voice-recognition-software, there’s a lack of any inflection. As he says to Chris Pratt on multiple occasions, “They’re just words.”
He has a difficult time with emotions. Whether it’s finding emotion, or controlling it, Mr. Twombly is a troubled man in the relationships department. Phoenix takes on all of the complexity of his character with ease, using his facial and body expressions to great advantage. But it is his vocal delivery that sells his trepadatious character to the max.
What Jonze realizes that like love, the film needs to be carefully tended to and take time. So we’re not rushed into the relationship that he eventually has with his new OS, Samantha (Scarlett Johansonn). Right when he first meets her, we get an instant connection to Theodore and Samantha. It’s just like that awkward first date that so many movies deal with, but it’s between a voice and a man – making it all the more impressive.
A large part of how real this relationship feels is Johansonn’s soothing voice, and Jonze’s sensitive direction and writing. He doesn’t force any philosophical standings on us, rather he just lets the relationship naturally form and on this alone, questions of our very existence and the nature of relationships and being form. As they begin to talk more, the more they (and the audience) realize that this relationship is more about fulfillment in this society where people are lost and incessantly babble to their own OS. Theodore and Samantha don’t just babble, but they fulfill their isolation with each other (Theodore with his breakup and socially awkward standing, and Samantha’s lack of a body, living through Theodore).
The whole film feels natural, and there’s an inherent beauty to the story that is accompanied by a wonderfully lit screen. Jonze has been more or less a director that is entirely known for his stories, but he really comes across as a technically minded director here. Just as Johansson provides the voice and Phoenix provides the visual portrayal of love and life, Arcade Fire provides the musical score of the year while Hoyte van Hoytema provides some of the best cinematography of the year. Hoytema’s frames are lit gently with colors of passion, and frames the characters with objects in the right manner. This is important because due to the lack of Samantha’s body, we need to see her as Theodore’s ear piece, his phone, his computer, etc. This also allows us to interact with them easier, creating more intimate close up shots of Phoenix – capturing all of his emotions that seamlessly coincide with Johansson’s voice – further proof of his ability as an actor.
It’s also important that Jonze provides us with not only the emotions (and explantions) of Theodore, but also of Samantha. Her monologues are entrancing to say the least, but it’s how Jonze films and edits the film that give (possibly) the most meaning to her character. It seems impossible to give the visual perspective of an inanimate object, but it’s fully achieved here.
The supporting cast that includes starlets: Amy Adams, Olivia Wilde, and Rooney Mara all provide great support in their limited roles. In their scenes, they provide almost as much meaning as Johansson does – creating a backdrop of comparison for Theodore. Through all of these extras, Jonze never loses focus when switching shots, rather it enhances the entire, ambitious scope of the film.
By the end of the film, Her, proves that you can feel both happy, angry, sad, confused, distraught,… all at once and it feels great. One of the best cinema experience I have had.