Lonely boy – ★★★★★
To a certain kind of “smart” film fan, Her is by far the most highly-anticipated release of 2013/14’s awards season and it’s not hard to work out why. Directed by a man who has yet to make a real misstep Spike Jonze, starring the wonderfully weird but incredibly talented Joaquin Phoenix and dealing with heavy, but oh so relatable subjects like technology and relationships. The avalanche of critics prizes and award nominations haven’t exactly hurt its pre-release buzz either.
The film is set maybe fifteen or twenty years in the future in a clean and placid version of Los Angeles. Phoenix plays Theodore Twombly, a lonely soul whose wife (Rooney Mara) has left him because of a perceived inability to really show his emotions. The irony of the fact that he composes emotional and heartfelt love-letters for a living (BeautifulHandWrittenLetters.com for all your sentimental and “personal” romantic needs this Valentine’s) isn’t lost on anyone. While he gets on well with his boss (Chris Pratt, also the voice star of The LEGO Movie which is out the same day as Her), the reality is that in his sad and lonely life his only friend is Amy (Amy Adams), who lives downstairs.
Striving for some new sort of presence in his life, he decides to try out the new personalised operation system for his computer, the simply titled OS1. He opts for the female voiced iteration of the system and lo and behold his new friend and future “love interest” Samantha is born. “OS1” is voiced here by the sultry tones of Scarlett Johansson and daft as it all is, you actually start to get behind the Theodore/Samantha relationship as the film progresses.
In an era where so much of the setup (and indeed ending) of relationships take place electronically, Her manages to feel incredibly current, even if the technology on show is a lot more advanced than the likes of iOS’ Siri can currently offer us. While it was sort of exciting to see Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan emailing each other back in 1998, it wasn’t until they actually saw each other that you felt a spark. Here, Samantha’s voice is kept loud and clear in the mix, allowing us as an audience to listen in on their conversations and really buy into a flourishing relationship.
There’s very little desktop computing taking place in this era as voice control has really taken over, and as we never see Samantha, we spend vast amounts of the film with Phoenix’s face starring right back at us as he talks to us with his little white earpiece in. He is the centrepiece of every scene of the film’s two hour running time and yet you never tire of his nervous and awkward demeanour, despite spending so much of it in close-up with him without an opposite character to cut too. While it would take a real grump to not admire his stellar acting work in The Master, you could never really say it was a character and role that you could ever connect with, but his performance here reels you in and hooks you very early on.
The elephant in the room is of course the film’s troubled production process. The missing-in-action Samantha Morton was on-set voicing Samantha (sidenote: is it just a weird coincidence that it was another self-titled character alongside Amy Adams’ Amy?) for the film’s production process, working in a soundproofed booth providing live cues to Phoenix. Ultimately Jonze felt it didn’t work how he wanted so he went and hired Mrs Sodastream ScarJo. There was also a much longer cut of the film which was then chopped down substantially by every director’s best mate Steven Soderbergh, with some characters and strands of the story chopped. Ultimately this final cut of the film only has about six or seven people with lines in the movie, one of whom is a computer you never see and another a five-year-old girl.
For the technologists and philosophers in the audience the film is a wet dream. Massive credit to the now Academy Award-nominated production design team who have built a version of L.A. life where technology is seamlessly integrated into everyday existence, but only a few iterations away from where we are now meaning it feels nothing like science fiction. The existential questions and nods to the works of philosopher Alan Watts are fun and provide you with plenty to chew over after you’ve stopped wondering in what year the high-waisted trouser and moustache combo is coming back into style.
Some people will pick through Her and find it too silly and far-fetched to really get behind, but for my money Jonze – backed by stellar work from cast and crew – has crafted one of the most believable versions of what loneliness and love in the twenty-first century may turn into.
Released across Ireland on Valentine’s Day, February 14th 2014
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