Thursday, January 09, 2014

My review of HER

HER is a modern love story about a guy who falls in love with his imaginary friend. And yet it’s the most honest, heartfelt, and funniest love story of the year.

Set in the near future (I’m guessing eleven minutes) Joaquin Phoenix signs up for a computer operating system companion. (If Siri could really talk.)  She takes the name Samantha and over time they have the best romantic relationship one can have without oral sex. They also encounter problems, complications, jealousies, dead philosophers, and reception issues.
Spike Jonze wrote and directed this film and deserves an A+ for both. The script is smart and touching, and it’s one of the prettiest films visually you’ve seen in ages, which is quite a feat considering most of the movie is a guy talking to his portable device. The look, the color scheme, even the pants are all fun to look at.

Scarlett Johansson plays “Samantha.” And Jonze does a sly thing here. He doesn’t try to make her the sexiest girl in the world. He creates the ideal “girl friend.” He understands that guys would rather have a voice that sympathize with his past break-ups than one who repeatedly asks for it from behind. Interestingly, Scarlett was not the original voice. Samantha Morton played the part, but Jonze felt the vibe just wasn’t right. Since I’ve never heard any of Samantha Morton’s performance I can’t compare, but I can’t imagine anybody doing it better that Scarlett Johansson. (Of course it also helps that you can picture Scarlett Johansson. That certainly adds to the fantasy. Who do you imagine for Siri? I picture Ann Curry.)

Also, notable in the cast are Chris Pratt, Matt Letscher (known to the world as Rob from ALMOST PERFECT) and Amy Adams. I’ll be honest. I know Amy is getting a lot of award buzz for her performance in AMERICAN HUSTLE (and she was terrific), but I liked her better in this. I enjoyed seeing Amy not doing an accent and not playing a “character.” She was very natural and effortless in HER. To me the mark of a great actor is when they can be great without having to work so hard. Every scene with her was a delight.

Spike Jonze is Charlie Kaufman but accessible. HER is brimming with ideas yet it’s never so weird you feel like you need to be on meth to follow it. There have been a number of movies like LARS AND THE REAL GIRL that tried to cover similar subject matter, but none has done it as well as HER. You’ll never think of your GPS system in the same way again. And the movie asks some provocative questions: is a genuine romance with a virtual partner possible? What happens if the company goes out of business? And if you are in love with your O.S., should you be allowed to drive in the carpool lane?

Go see HER. It opens nationwide tomorrow.  Have Siri remind you (if she doesn't get jealous).

33 comments:

Hamid said...

HER won't be opening in the UK till next month but I'll definitely check it out.

Off-topic but I'd like to say Happy Birthday to one of my favourite character actors of all time, J.K. Simmons, who's 59 today. He's one of those actors who automatically makes any movie he's in better, and he'll always be the definitive J. Jonah Jameson.

Joe in DC said...

“Her” provides a case study in ineffective advertising. The TV spots, to me (mid-40s white male), make the movie look artsy and Phoenix creepy. Based on the commercials , you only want to find out more about the movie in the same way an Upworthy link makes you want to click it (knowing full well you’ve been click-baited). If “Her” is a quirky yet still mainstream love story, they should just be honest about it. (Although realistically, since it doesn't look as if it needs to be seen on a large screen—no “Lawrence of Arabia,” it—then I’ll more than likely wait and check it out on Netflix, based solely on word-of-mouth reviews such as yours.)

Anonymous said...

Friday question:

The Michael J Fox show got a 0.8 rating recently. This is a prime time show on a major network. Why is this show still on the air, aside from the fact that it's NBC making the programming decisions?

Aaron Sheckley said...

@Hamid:

I'm going to second your Happy Birthday to JK Simmons. He's a lot like Harry Dean Stanton: no movie with him in it can be totally awful, no matter how bad it is. Never seen a performance by Simmons that I didn't enjoy; in fact, I just watched him the other day in "A Beginner's Guide to Endings"...great, as always.

Covarr said...

Does it get into the moral and ethical issues revolving around dating a non-person? If so, I'll have to see it, if only on the off chance it might supplant Chobits as the best of its type (in my opinion, anyway).

emily said...

Perhaps Ken should offer to help the Michael J. Fox Show find its funny...?

Jan Stanton said...

I'm so on your same page. I found HER to be inventive and modern, yet relatable. We're probably good movie companions. Based on your last two reviews we're 2 for 2!

AlaskaRay said...

Ken said: "She takes the name Samantha and over time they have the best romantic relationship one can have without oral sex."

Don't worry, we're working on an app for that.

Ray

gottacook said...

Anonymous and emily:
NBC made a full-season commitment to the Fox series nearly a year before production began. From an August 21, 2012 NY Times article I found by Google search: "NBC announced on Monday night that it had won the bidding war for a sitcom that will star Mr. Fox in a role 'loosely drawn,' it said, from his real life. Reflecting the intense interest in the still untitled show, NBC committed to ordering a season’s worth of episodes, 22 in total, without even making a pilot episode."

So there you go. With such a deal practically guaranteeing mediocrity, it's no wonder that the resulting series hasn't gained an audience.

Matthew said...

If you ask Siri "Are you Her?" she will reply
"No, I do not spend much time with purely fictional characters"

http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2014/01/05/siri_her_easter_egg_siri_is_not_a_fan_of_the_spike_jonze_movie.html

Sharon said...

Even though HER sounds interesting to me, I'm not going to see it because I'm not a fan of Joaquin Phoenix. He's just not my cup of tea.

Anonymous said...

Hollywood so often objectifies and marginalizes women that I guess it doesn't even seem weird anymore to make the perfect girlfriend a disembodied voice. After all, this way "She" doesn't have any of those real person problems like dislikes or disagreements or anything other than wagging her virtual tail and being happy to see him and talk to him and encourage him and support him and... You get the idea. It's all about him, because she is not a real person. Like most of the female characters in movies. At least Lars and the Real Girl made it clear he had a problem.

rockgolf said...

I like to see this movie on a double-bill with the 1935 classic "SHE".

If only someone could recommend a factory town in Pennsylvania where this might take place...

Liggie said...

I remember a "Big Bang Theory" episode where Raj fell in love with Siri. Wonder if HER was in the works before that episode aired?

Dixon Steele said...

I liked it, but it went on too long. The point was made but still went on and on...wasn't it you, Ken, who said over 2 hrs is too long for a comedy?

Tudor Queen said...

I'm looking forward to seeing this, and you've only made me more eager. One small cavil, though - you never mention Joaquin Phoenix once in the entire review, either negatively or positively, and the people I know who've seen it say the movie wouldn't work nearly as well without him as Theodore.

DwWashburn said...

A sub plot of a Big Bang Theory episode is stolen to make a movie by a writer who swiped Spike Jones' name. Yep, Hollywood is all about originality.

Anonymous said...

gottacook:

"So there you go. With such a deal practically guaranteeing mediocrity, it's no wonder that the resulting series hasn't gained an audience."

What about pressure from affiliates? What do they care about poor decisions NBC made, if the numbers are so low?

gottacook said...

In my experience, an affiliate is free to substitute something else (this happened semi-regularly when I lived in Minneapolis, for example) but doesn't have actual power to force a network decision to place different programming in the slot. (I realize that in the Jay Leno Show case, pressure from affiliates may have played a role, but that was a special case: 5 nights a week, leading into local news.)

Where I live now, NBC is an owned-and-operated station, so it's network programming all the way.

Jeffro said...

Strikeout, Ken. Siri's voice: not sexy. Ann Curry: not sexy. Ann Curry's voice: not sexy in the slightest (in fact, it's more of a complete turn-off).

ODJennings said...

>A sub plot of a Big Bang Theory episode is stolen to make a movie by a writer who swiped Spike Jones' name. Yep, Hollywood is all about originality.<

I'm sure that before it's over we'll find out that Roseanne thought of it first.

jbryant said...

DW: I'll take your word that Big Bang Theory did an episode with a similar plotline to HER. But come on -- it's only natural that such a plot would be done someday. I'm guessing about 50 wannabe screenwriters were working on a similar premise when they heard about HER. Besides, concepts and premises don't mean much unless they're executed well. Obviously, lots of people, including Ken, think Jonze did a bang-up job executing his premise. As for his pseudonym, he can call himself Abraham Lincoln as long as he makes good films, IMO.

Mike said...

The numerous British attempts at this are invariably dystopic - 2001 (HAL), Blake's Seven (Orac), Hitchhiker's Guide (Eddie the Shipboard Computer & worse, Marvin the Paranoid Android), Red Dwarf (Holly & worse, Rimmer) and Kernel Panic - with the possible exception of The Doctor's Wife.
Still, it's a nice change for Ron Mael of Sparks.

deanareeno said...

I didn't really like Her, but these things are always so subjective anyway. Here's my 2013 favourites round-up if you're interested, in no particular order (each list item is a link to a post):

Prisoners
The Way Way Back
Mud
The Kings of Summer
Gravity
Before Midnight
Don Jon
Drinking Buddies

I try to avoid spoilers, so no worries there. There's a couple I would add that I still haven't posted about (for example, I thought American Hustle was really entertaining), and of course I didn't see everything that came out last year.

Also, a post about those 2013 movies that disappointed (for me, Her is one of those):

Disappointments of 2013

Greg Ehrbar said...

Have not seen the movie, but wonder how much is resembles that Twilight Zone with Wally Cox, in which "Agnes" the computer falls for him. (Watch that one to see Miss Landers (Beaver's teacher and one of my early crushes) play a very frisky role.

Memorable ALMOST PERFECT line from Matt Letscher: "I can't go to prison! I'm too cute!"

W. Keith Sewell said...

Haha, I agree with the Siri - reminds you of a Ann Curry' type. So true, if Ann Curry had a personality. I like her - but she couldn't 'think outside the box" - if it was laid out flat in front of her.

Storm said...

"...Still, it's a nice change for Ron Mael of Sparks."

By Bowie's sacred crotch, I think I'm falling in love with you. Let me know if you ever need a green card; my husband will just have to understand.

Way-hey!

Storm

Mike said...

@Storm:
It's true, I wrote that line just for you.

Stuart Sutcliffe said...

I thought you might be caving to sentimentality in this review, but I just saw "Her" and you're right -- This is a better film than the others getting all the buzz.

Good films should reflect our lives back to us. "Her" is meaningful and timely because it says a great deal about the kind of world we live in now, where it's going, and all the while being dressed up as a somewhat futuristic sci-fi. The film is also informed by how we've evolved as humans, and makes us question how we adapt our emotions when technology makes the world more isolating.

And it does it all with such gorgeous understatement.

I didn't observe that many layers of thought in Wolf of Wall Street or American Hustle. Scorcese and Russell have made those kinds of films in the past, but not this time around.

chuckcd said...

I thought it was an Apple commercial...

Johnny Walker said...

Just saw this and finally read the whole review (not that there was any spoilers in it, but you never know).

Totally agree with everything you said. Especially about Amy Adams. She was perfect in it - possibly the best performance I've ever seen her give. She felt so natural -- not that her other performances are bad, just that this suddenly threw what she'd done before into sharp relief.

The back and forth between Joaquin and "Samantha" felt so fluid and flawless that I was sure the actress playing her had to be on set. And of course, she was... but I'm amazed to hear it was Samantha Morton.

I don't think I've ever heard a better off camera performance -- and it was all done in post. Wow. Scarlett Johansson deserves some recognition, I think. As does Joaquin, thinking about it. Almost all of the movie plays in his subtle facial expressions.

Just all round wonderful.

Nardia Morrison said...

Haha

Nardia Morrison said...

I just saw the big bang episode and remembered Her and the first thing I did was research and found your comment.