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Zimbio Review - True Romance in 'Her' and the Genius of Spike Jonze


(Warner Brothers)Long story short: Deeply romantic and hugely funny, Her is a love story for the modern age.

Her will remind you of: Being John Malkovich, Lost in Translation, Like Crazy 

Review: What's most brilliant about Spike Jonze's
conceit, that a human could fall in love with an operating system, isn't the idea itself. It's how damned plausible he makes it seem. He does it in layers in his new film, Her. The environment is utopian Los Angeles where everyone walks around talking to themselves, or rather, to their computers. People don't really need people anymore. The man who falls in love, newly divorced and depressed Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is in search of comfort, meaning, anything to give his life purpose again. He's also one of the most romantic and empathetic film characters since the days of Capra. Then there's the operating system itself, Samantha. Voiced by Scarlett Johansson, she sounds like a sex kitten and has just as much personality and charm as any dream girl you could conjure. You start believing this type of thing is possible and, therefore, you believe in Her.

Jonze is a genius. There's no other way to put it. I've cried watching one of his commercials. The way his mind works is next-level intelligence and Her may be his best film yet. It's his fourth feature, after Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, which kept him underrated because they were written by another genius, Charlie Kaufman. Jonze's last film Where the Wild Things Are isn't appreciated as much as it should be, but it also didn't spring from his own mind. Her is all Jonze. He wrote and directed it and instilled his own unique ideas about romance as well as his mad sense of humor. Her boasts the funniest scene of the entire year. It's not always a funny movie, but a fantastic interlude, where Theo plays a first-person video game made me choke on my goobers.

More than anyone else, Her reeks of Jonze, but a mountain of credit must also be given to Phoenix and Johansson, its two leads. Phoenix takes up nearly every frame of every scene, more than that, his face does. A huge percentage of the movie is filmed in intimate close-ups, the point of view of Samantha. We never see Johansson. It's not a spoiler to reveal the computer doesn't miraculously spring to life in the form of the beautiful actress. We only hear her, as Theo does, so we're bound by the characters' experiences. We learn as they learn and see what they see. There are sequences in Her that will take you right back to Being John Malkovich. Jonze has mastered the art of interactive cinema. His camera doubling as the human eye.

Theo works at Beautiful Handwritten Letters.com, a service that writes letters for people to send to loved ones. He's established relationships with his clients, some lasting nearly a decade. He imagines he's someone else as they congratulate family members on life events or express deep feelings of love when an anniversary comes around. Theo has a talent for the job. The nice guy receptionist (Chris Pratt) tells him his writing is beautiful. The BHL concept is in keeping with Jonze's theme of people vicariously living through others. He has a vested interest in empathy and Theo is his surrogate.

I've never met Jonze, but I imagine he's the type of person who could fall in love with a computer. He would have to be to make this movie. Her seems to be a mini-version of his world. I got a distinctly Being Spike Jonze feeling from the film. In his futuristic Los Angeles, everyone dresses like him. Goodwill seems to be the only clothing store. People wear shirts buttoned to the neck with wool pants and no belts. Women have tousled mops for hairstyles, like Cameron Diaz in Malkovich, and the men all sport mustaches. Then there's Theodore himself. Amiable even in heartbreak, he's self-effacing, open-minded, and wholesome, but not prudish. It's impossible not to think Phoenix isn't doing his best Jonze impression.

The story itself finds Theo intrigued by the world's first AI OS, called OS1, and buying one for himself out of nothing but sheer curiosity. He turns on his new cpu, decides he wants a female voice, and Samantha suddenly comes alive. Theo's incredulous at first, Samantha wins him over by using intuition. She senses emotion in his inflection, is brutally honest, and makes him laugh.

An early scene shows Theo calling a phone sex line when he can't sleep one night. He's comfortable talking without seeing and he quickly becomes very comfortable with Samantha. Their relationship evolves quickly from "You have 81 emails" to "How would you touch me?" A breathless scene, where the two copulate with their voices, fades to black so we experience what they do. They lose themselves in each other and Samantha drifts into glorious ecstasy. She yearns for a body to escape the limits of her consciousness and discovers the beauty of love. They become a couple. Theo tucks Samantha in his breast pocket everywhere he goes and the cpu lens sees the world as he does. They share experiences together and connect on every level. But as Samantha evolves more and more so does her appetite to learn and Theo realizes he cannot possess her.

Her relishes the simplicity of life. It's interested in human nature and how we connect to one another. Jonze's outlook is romantic but practical, two conflicting ideas. He shoots the film in immaculate light, lending the film a dreamy haze. Sunlight flashes the camera lens. This futuristic fairy tale is a testament to the restorative power of love and the innocence of it all. 

 
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