This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 23rd February 2014
It’s a brilliantly clever premise that had cinephiles’ interest piqued from the moment Spike Jonze announced his intention to direct another feature (following 2009’s Where the Wild Things Are, and a whole lot of documentaries and short films in between). Joaquin Phoenix’s lovelorn writer, Theodore Twombly, falls in love with the voice of his computer’s operating system. The fact that the voice of Samantha is provided by the luscious-lipped Scarlett Johansson only enhances the inherent cleverness of the conceit, since few viewers will be able to ignore their ear’s automatic association with the sex symbol’s sultry good looks.
But cleverer still is the fact that Phoenix (a perennial taker of challenging roles) is utterly convincing in his one-sided portrayal of heartfelt true love, performing his scenes with a face that crumples with despair or explodes into joy at the mere sound of his computer’s dulcet tones. Given the story revolves around a burgeoning love affair where one character is off-screen the whole time, it’s necessarily a talky movie and once again Jonze (who wrote and directed) excels in his ability to deliver imaginative, charming insights, often relying on simple close ups of Phoenix’s face while we eavesdrop on the unlikely couple’s courtship.
Add to this the incredibly realistic future world borne from Jonze’s brilliant imagination, and Her becomes not just a lesson in love but a warning about modern life. The people still look just like us, but they manage their whole lives via an earpiece, checking voicemail, sending messages, reading the news – all done from a train or escalator and naturally without engaging with the other humans all around. Perhaps not so futuristic after all…
The production design is intensely beautiful with bold reds and oranges forming an intoxicating backdrop to the action, and the innovation of immersive video games is an exciting prospect for gamers of the future. Even the supporting cast (including a reliable Amy Adams and a surprisingly terrific Olivia Wilde) blend into the strange tale so convincingly you believe life could actually be like this one day.
At the same time quirky, troubling and rather beautiful, Her makes a good prototype for cinema, if not romance, of the future.