Emotion is something that cinema sorely wants. There are hundreds of films released every year, each one attempting to play on some sort of emotional theme or core, but few films are able to capture the emotion of both the film’s characters and get the emotional engagement from the audience. While other films try to create artificial emotions in order to present a more emotionally traumatic experience, Her simply presents a near future where humans are more technologically advance but still suffer from feelings of emptiness and fear. Her is a beautiful film that doesn’t take a stand on relationships, technology, love, or the future; it simply presents them.
Spike Jonze is a writer/ director that Hollywood hasn’t really known what to do with. He can’t be labeled as “the next Scorsese” or “the next Spielberg” or the next whoever, because he has a unique style and range that just hasn’t been seen before. This style is a unique blend of comedy, drama, and romance that has been done before, but not to the extent that Jonze has done it. There are moments of the film where the audience isn’t sure whether certain situations are supposed to be comedic or dramatic. Even the ending has the audience confused on how they are intended to feel. Much of the film is left for the audience to interpret, making the film a much more personal experience.
Joaquin Phoenix has always been recognized as a talented actor who commits to his roles, but Her is possibly the most diverse and interesting role he has ever committed to, and possibly the crowning performance of his career. Phoenix obviously has done more than read Jonze’s script; he has understood it and adapted his performance in a way that gives the film as much life as possible. The acting is organic and real, allowing Phoenix to play every emotion possible with perfection. While the other performances are good, this is clearly Phoenix’s movie.
It’s hard to describe the performance given by Scarlett Johansson. Her vocal work is incredible and the emotions feel just as real as Phoenix’s. But the most impressive part of her performance is the chemistry between Johansson and Joaquin Phoenix. Whether the beautiful back and forth relationship is a credit to the performers or the screenplay is unclear, but it was definitely the year’s best romance.
Supporting actors such as Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, and Olivia Wilde also deliver good performances. Will Butler and Owen Palletts’ score is beautiful, but ironically simple in comparison to the complex characters. The editing is quite good as well, especially when showing the daily life of Joaquin Phoenix’s character and flashbacks to Phoenix’s wife, which help develop emotional ideas. Overall, the technical side of the film is good, but obviously secondary to the writing and acting.
The flaws of Her are minor and few. Certain scenes are slightly too long and distract from the narrative. The flashbacks with Phoenix’s wife are purposefully ambiguous, but a few specific details would have been nice in order to get a more accurate portrait of the character. Additionally, the second half of the film seems to be constantly building toward a climax, which sometimes distracted from the characters. All of these issues where distracting, but never took the audience out of the world of the film.
Her is a beautiful film with rich characters, an engaging story, emotional depth, and career best performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson. The world of Her is odd, but unforgettable and deserving of its accolades. Fans of cinema can rejoice that an “original film” doesn’t have to be a disorienting art house film, but an emotionally deep experience with great characters and enough comedy to be constantly engaging. While it might not be for everyone, Her is a fantastic film that presents a world not too different from ours. Grade: +A