Monday 17 February 2014

Review: Her

Year: 2013 (U.K Release 2014)

Director: Spike Jonez

Screenplay: Spike Jonez

Starring:  Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, Scarlett Johansson

Synopsis is here 

Don't call it a backlash. It's not that I didn't like Her. The ideas it brings up are provoking in the same way they are in RoboCop (1987) or Blade Runner (1982). However in watching The Lego Movie (which also plays with the ideal of free will) afterwards, I found myself more entertained by the latter’s more subversive elements. After Her, I kept asking: does this world have to be so miserable?

That's not the best way to describe Her: a film which lands us in a pastel and placid LA in which people are more obsessed with their handhelds than we see now (even in this screening I had some ignorant ass on giving off their light pollution). But Her sits us next to Theodore, a un-engaging sad sack who writes heartfelt letters to long distanced love ones, a man who provides the right emotions for other but none for himself.

As the film delves deeper into its sci-fi premise, we realise that this is computer as confessional; a personal live journal who embraces you and grows with you. You shout into the void and it responds back to you in a deeply profound way. No doubt we can see the obstacles over the horizon. Think of children.

As Samantha; the love interest and programmed operating system; Scarlett Johansson has possibly the most difficult performances she’s possibly faced (I have not seen Under the Skin yet). Even animated characters have facial tics. One of the films strongest factors is witnessing the screenplay and Johanson’s performance (in which we only see as her voice) expands as the film moves along. Samantha grows from an advanced yet empty program to a spirited personality with an inquisitiveness entirely of it’s own accord. Johansson’s husky, sensual tone not only accentuates the playful, flirty aspects of the character, but she also brings out the empathy of a being that is slowly learning of the world around itself.

This is Jones' prettiest film, the crisp, clean aesthetic sparkles and the small details that display a futuristic America has a plausible texture to proceedings. Jones' use of space is powerful but it's also quite isolating while his lead is frustratingly distancing. Jordan Belfort in Wolf of Wall Street is a sexist man a misogynistic world, but his charm has a sleazy allure to it and his antics are quick to remind a viewer of how you should feel about such a douche. While WOWS is a film which has us laugh at Belfort, Her wishes us to believe that Theodore is someone to sympathise with entirely despite his anti social world view which is much of his own creation. I don’t have to like a character to love a film, yet Theodore  lacks the engagement that would help me respond in the way that Jonez would like me to.

The creepy, slightly insidious way he wants to control the women (who are smarter than himself) in his life is placed to the side. Its absorbing to see how Samantha grows and appreciates the world, it's awkward to see how limited Theodore wishes to keep both his and her view. But it's fine because he doesn't have the snarky OK Cupid profile to show his darker side. The films latter half also considers the idea that not only Theodore, but we as people are sadly limiting, stunted and slightly disabled of our own view. To put it another way, Dave wouldn't be able to disable Hal.

I have similar reservations to Her as I did with Being John Malkovich. The concept is provoking but the character is selfish and self absorbed in a way that the beautiful score and future quirks cannot hide and that places me far too at odds with a character who wishes to appear pleasant. I think that's my tragedy with Her. It does well to remind us how human we can be. Then we realise the problem with her is him.