Mania Review: Her -

Mania Review

Mania Grade: A

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  • Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Matt Letscher and the voice of Scarlett Johansson
  • Written by: Spike Jonze
  • Directed by: Spike Jonze
  • Studio: Warner Bros
  • Rating: R
  • Run Time: 126 minutes
  • Series:

Mania Review: Her

The tender love of one man for his computer...

By Rob Vaux     December 19, 2013

© Warner Bros/Robert Trate

 Rarely do romances come as strange, sad and beautiful as Her, the latest cinematic rabbit hole from the brilliant Spike Jonze. Jonze never takes the straight road when he makes a movie, and in the case of Being John Malkovich, created one of the most unique movies of the last twenty years. Her easily matches it, though it aims for melancholy sweetness rather than disturbing existentialism. In the process it creates a stand-out science fiction story in a year already littered with them. Most of 2013’s crop have gone big, however (witness Gravity, Oblivion and Elysium among others); this one takes the opposite route to remarkable effect.

He has some seriously awesome help. Like Andy Serkis’s various creations, Scarlett Johansson pushes the boundaries of how we define a great performance here. She plays Samantha, the sentient OS marketed in the Los Angeles of the not-to-distant future. We never see her; we only hear her voice as her lonely, schlubby owner Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) first uploads her into his computer, then slowly falls in love with her. It’s hardly surprising; Theodore is involved in an emotionally messy divorce with his childhood sweetheart and his isolation radiates out from him in waves. He’s awkward and shy, and certainly isn’t ready to start dating again. Like all of this new “OS 1” line, Samantha is designed to conform to his personality type and to grow with him. She’s kind and sympathetic, even though she doesn’t agree with him about everything. Suddenly, he has a constant companion willing to listen, make helpful suggestions and even kick him in the ass if he needs it. What happens next is only natural.

Moreover, it’s just a single step or two away for life as we know it already. Online relationships flourish across the world, and until we meet in real life, we can never be sure exactly who that person on the other side of the computer is. Who’s to say we won’t be able to invent our own virtual lovers in a few years? Her dedicates itself to a thoughtful and thorough exploration of that concept. You can smell the cheap jokes and easy plot complications lurking just out of sight: an artificial mind jealous of a real-life rival, a computer-led uprising masked as viable connections, all the hoary clichés from fifty years of AI science fiction. Jonze looks them straight in the eye and then firmly turns them away, going for the interesting issues instead of the tired plot twists.

There’s definitely interesting issues to be had, for while Samantha is warm and friendly, she is most definitely not human. Her relationship isn’t perfect with her human mate, since she’s growing and changing along with him. She lacks a physical body, but her mental and emotional boundaries are truly limitless, and not even she may know where they lead. Theodore comes along for the ride, both as an audience surrogate and a confused, sensitive man trying to decide if this is all too weird for words.

You could read it as a metaphor for homosexual relationships or any other “taboo” love, but it reality, it stands on its own. Perhaps more importantly, we find ourselves caring very deeply about the two of them and where their romance might be headed. Jonze has answers for us, and just like real life they’re both sadder and more wondrous than we might anticipate. Phoenix underplays his character beautifully, aided by a strong supporting turn from Amy Adams as his pal down the hall and Johansson, whose career-best performance comes devoid of any facial features. Even voice-over actors for animated films have an onscreen character to help. Johansson doesn’t even have that, and yet she knocks it out of the park. She’ll be ignored, of course, but like Serkis, her work her is remarkable.

To that, Jonze add a subtle but effective visual look, conveying a future Los Angeles that feels plausibly futuristic without going overboard on the bells and whistles. When coupled with the amazing script, it becomes a nearly perfect package to give the Oscar race a jolt: turning what could have been a cheap knock-off into a haunting romance, an elegant character study and a nifty meditation on our increasing interdependence with machines. This may very well be where our world is headed, and the film’s exploration of these issues fits in exceedingly well with the best that science fiction has to offer. Does Samantha have a soul? Is her connection to Theodore wrong, or merely different? Abstract questions today might very well be tomorrow’s op-ed headlines, and Her feels deliciously ahead of the curve on that front. We don’t live in an era that appreciates original filmmaking like this. Franchises and adaptations are the norm, and while they produce their share of great movies, we’ve lost the spark of originality that traditionally defines the best of science fiction. Her isn’t about to let that spark die without a fight… and the ammunition in its corner is potent indeed.


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Dazzler 12/19/2013 3:47:35 AM

I'll watch this on my ipad instead the theatre. 

KungPow 12/19/2013 7:00:19 AM

 I'll watch this never ever of ever.

monkeyfoot 12/19/2013 7:32:38 AM

From your description this is the best of what we as sci-fi fans are supposed to be asking for: thought provoking stories that either talk about present day events in allegorical ways or showing how new technology advances or diminishes the human experience. However most sci-fi fans will complain about all that ever gets to the movies are the big FX blockbusters where everybody talks in catch phrases and stuff gets blown up real good but here we have a story that has depth but it sounds like nobody is interested in it.

And I also have to admit that even though I like the idea and your good review I will probably wait until its on DVD or OnDemand before I see it. Like everybody else I usually reserve my movie money to see some sh@t get zapped with ray guns.

nemesis1_57 12/19/2013 9:01:38 AM

 For an Puerto Ricans or Salsa fans on mania doesn't Joaquin Phoenix look like Willie Colon. LOL.

fft5305 12/19/2013 10:46:50 AM

Sounds good, and from what I've heard, this isn't the only overwhelmingly positive review. I'm definitely interested. Don't know if I'll get to see it in the theater, but not for lack of desire. More like limited time/resources with other priorities right now (holidays, family, Hobbit). But we do need more movies like this that favor character and story over mindless f/x. Not that those movies don't have their place too.

wish 12/19/2013 3:28:42 PM

I wouldn't expect anyone to rush out and see this, but I'll never miss a Spike Jonze film......never ever.....he's a genius, and so is Joaquin.  Go ahead and skip it if you want, but you'll be missing out on what will likely be an award winning film that'll be talked about as much as Being John Malkovich still gets talked about today!  Don't be so hung up on titles and premise, I've learned that great films, truly great and timeless films can be about anything and have anyone involed, if they are the right people and it's well done, a great film is a great film.

redhairs99 12/19/2013 9:01:37 PM

I like Spike Jonez well enough, but I feel like Being John Malkcovich is highly over-rated.  It's a good flick, but not nearly as amazing as some say.  And Where the Wild Things was a great looking film, but I found the movie to be awfully mean-spirited and was highly disappointed.

redhairs99 12/19/2013 9:02:14 PM

The trailers for this seemed interesting though.

millean 12/23/2013 11:08:39 AM

Ew.  I hated Being John Malkovich, didn't realize that was a Spike Jonez film.  Throw in Dead Presidents, To Die For, Any Given Sunday, and The Fisher King and you have my least favorite 5 movies of all time. Just sayin'.  :)

I just saw the trailer for the movie this morning before I came to work.  It looks intriguing, but doubt I'll see this in the theatres.  Hope it does well.  (And if the MoS2 rumors are accurate, we could think of this as Lex Luthor falling in love with Brainiac!)




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