SYNOPSIS: In futuristic Los Angeles, lonely greetings card writer Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) struggles to get through life following his divorce to Catherine (Rooney Mara). That soon changes when he purchases the first OS operating system which introduces itself as Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). She becomes useful in helping Theodore with his daily chores and also offers vocal support to his love life. Eventually, an unlikely romance develops between man and machine which descends into something strong yet also suffers complications along the way.
Romance comes in strange ways in Spike Jonze’s newest film, the poignant dramedy Her.
Having made intelligent efforts like Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, Jonze writes and directs this moving tale of futuristic love which has already been shortlisted alongside eight other films in the Best Picture Oscar category.
The remarkable script enables Jonze to create an unbelievable love story that somehow delivers as we delve into this unusual romance between a man and his OS.
Leading character Theodore gains our attention throughout as we watch him go through a withdrawn lifestyle based around his job and his computer game obsession.
But with technology taking over the human world, the film shows how reliant people are in these machines which triggers Theodore’s decision to purchase ‘Samantha’.
The presence of this talking AI helps Theo become more confident about himself but more importantly, it allows him to connect with someone (or something) that doesn’t seem normal to most people.
This eventually leads to the bizarre yet touching romance which begins rather absurdly when the pair engage in simulated sex.
This is played for awkward laughs by Jonze but somehow works wonderfully.
But while it has its humour, Her carries on the tradition of depicting the flaws of relationships even in this case as Theodore and Samantha’s union is tainted by their different forms.
For a film that has such an emotionally-driven narrative, Jonze is able to rely on an emotionally-driven performance by leading man Joaquin Phoenix as he becomes the primary focus from beginning to end.
Despite his best efforts in trying to stay out of the limelight, the controversial actor remains one of Hollywood’s strongest method performers and is able to continue that with a sensitive portrayal of a man trying to reach out in a futuristic world.
Theodore is also a character that you can identify with and many of us male viewers can relate to the awkward mannerisms that he inhabits during his time on-screen.
Although we never see her appear at all, Scarlett Johansson provides heartfelt vocal work as ‘Samanatha’, an OS who not only becomes Theodore’s unlikely companion but is also able to learn about the pros (and cons) of human behaviour.
Vocal performances have never been recognised by the Oscars but if they were, then Johansson would have been a much deserved nominee!
Following on from her dazzling role in American Hustle (another Best Picture nominee from this year), Amy Adams continues to deliver exceptional work as ‘Amy’, a former flame of Theo’s who provides comfort and support towards his lonely lifestyle.
Fellow actresses Rooney Mara and Olivia Wilde both have minimal screen-time as Theo’s ex-wife and a date gone wrong but are still able to make the most of it with authentic performances.
Away from the story and acting, the (not-too distant) future of Los Angeles is also captured majestically by Jonze’s production team.
The film looks and feels rich courtesy of the combined work of art director K.K Barrett and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema as Theodore’s world is presented like a dreamy reality.
An additional bonus comes from the stylish score by Arcade Fire and Karen O which is beautifully choreographed and benefited further by a touching rendition of ‘The Moon Song’ by the latter musician.
However the film’s romantic elements don’t always work out well particularly with its bittersweet ending.
Theodore and Samantha’s relationship has a bizarre conclusion that isn’t quite explained properly and ends up coming across as too analytical for mainstream audiences.
Another flaw is that while the pair’s ‘love-making’ is cleverly filmed, an earlier scene where Theo embarks on phone sex with a screeching call girl (voiced by Bridesmaids star Kristen Wiig) is just too over-the-top and unnecessary for such a subtle film.
But all that aside, Spike Jonze continues to show why he is one of the best original writers in the industry with his emotional love story which perfectly balances its wit with plenty of heart.