365 Movies By Day Reviews of Movies I Watch that I Feel Like Writing About


Her (2013)

I imagine there were some parts during the filming of Spike Jonze's (Adaptation, Being John Malkovich) Her where everybody on the set wondered What the heck are we doing with this movie? or something similar to this using much more profane words. The premise for this movie is weird. The trailer was weird. The movie was weird. I remember seeing the trailer the very first time and thinking that there was no way that this movie could succeed. There was no conceivable way that any right man was going to fall in love with his operating system. That is one of the most unbelievable things I have ever heard of. But as I watched the trailer a few more times and started hearing some of the praise associated with the movie, I began to wonder if maybe this could be one of those rare treasures you find at the end of the calendar year. The first reason was because it reminded me of the Ryan Gosling movie Lars And The Real Girl, a movie that I had convinced myself beforehand that there was no way I would enjoy but ended up loving. The second reason was because of how Joaquin Phoenix (Walk The Line, Reservation Road) was portrayed in just the trailer alone. He has played so many serious/dark characters recently that seeing him flash that smile with that goofy mustache over and over in a two minute trailer made me curious to see a side of him that we haven't seen in a very long time. Phoenix was a PERFECT for this character as I will mention later in this review.

Basically this movie is set in the not so distant future. Phoenix is Theodore, a recently separated man who writes hand written cards for a living. Basically, people all over the country hire the company he works for to say the words that they are unable to say to the people who they love the most. For example, he has been writing hand written letters as a woman to her husband for the past 25+ years. He writes graduation letters. He writes thank you letters. He writes anniversary letters. There isn't really a letter he doesn't write. This is one of the first themes of the movie. The disconnection between people (mainly due to things like their cell phones). You see Theodore go through his day and night. His human interactions are minimal. It's very interesting, in fact, to see him talking aloud while using his cell phone and ear piece to cycle through his email, voice messages, news feeds, etc. in very public places like the subway, the shopping mall, etc. and having no one even pay attention to the fact that this is abnormal. In 2013, when we see people using their bluetooth technology in a public place, I think we still kind of look at them funny and wonder if they are crazy and talking to themselves. It's definitely not as bizarre as it was a few years ago and a few years from now, it will be even more the norm. But in this movie, it is a widely accepted practice. Everybody is addicted to their phones. It never explicitly states how far into the future this movie is. The only way we are able to tell at all is through the advances in technology. Everything else tends to look exactly the same as it does today.

Theodore is a depressed man. The separation from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara - Side Effects, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) is clearly something he did not want. Theodore does his job effectively, but he is lonely outside of work. He spends his nights alone, often playing video games or having phone sex with woman he just met. He reminisces about the good life with Catherine. There are numerous flashbacks that show a young Theodore and a young Catherine and they are clearly in love, intent on setting their roots in society. I thought Jonze played this angle perfectly. The flashbacks occur frequently, but each little individual segment is just a few seconds long. The Theodore in the past is a stark contrast to the man we meet in this movie. When the customized OS1 operating system is introduced, Theodore decides it is something he needs because his life is so unorganized. After just a few initial setup questions, his personalized operating system introduces herself as Samantha (Scarlett Johansson - Lost In Translation, Don Jon).  Samantha explains herself as the creation of millions of different programmers to be customized for the end user. She explains that, while she has no body, she can evolve based on personal experiences. She is first and foremost a computer and can compute things in milliseconds. For example she is able to go through his inbox of thousands of emails and determine the ones he should keep and the ones he should discard. Just as Theodore was hoping, she organizes his life for him.

But the two great a friendship that turns into something much more meaningful. Samantha alone brings him out of his funk and returns him to a life where he finds hope and meaning. This, for the most part, is the Theodore we see in the captivating movie trailers. As the two fall in love, they find that they have man of the same issues as any two entities in a relationship. They can laugh together. They can cry together. They can fight. They can experience bouts of jealousy. They can enjoy life together. They can even have sex together. It's an interesting pretense even if you aren't able to totally buy into it. I felt like, and still feel like, that you need to be in a very dark place or have some sort of emotional/mental condition to think that a machine can bring you more intimacy and more happiness than another human being. But if you can suspend reality for a couple of hours and put yourself in Theodore's shoes as a man who thinks the true joys of his life are gone forever, you might be able to see how something like this can rejuvenate a soul. Again, I compare it to Lars And the Real Girl which, if you haven't seen, was Ryan Gosling treating a blow up doll as, not just his girlfriend, but his true love. Does that movie sound ridiculous. Check it out and I bet it changes your mind.

Johansson is great as Samantha. Though we never see her (since she doesn't actually exist), she's got the perfect voice for Samantha. Now an interesting question does arise her. All of us know what Scartlett Johansson lookes like. She is an extremely attractive young woman with both a beautiful face and fantastic body. What if have been a better experience as a member of the audience if Samantha was an actress that known of us had ever heard of before and none of us had any idea of how she looked? It's an interesting question that asked myself more than a couple of times during this movie. I don't know the correct answer to this question. Perhaps it is different for everyone. It is interesting to note, however, that the movie was filmed with a lesser known character and Jonze decided to redo all of Samantha's scenes using Johansson. I thought she was great, but it's interesting to wonder what the experience might have been like if I hadn't had a face to go with the voice. In that regard, we would have been able to make our impression about Samantha by nothing more than her personality and her voice, which is exactly how Theodore was able to make his impressions about her. I don't know what the right or wrong answer is her, but it does bring up an interesting debate.

I think Phoenix deserves a Best Actor Academy Award for his performance. Scarlett Johansson is great, but we never see her. Phoenix carries this movie better than anybody else that I can think of. He's an eccentric fellow and, as I mentioned earlier, he needed a film that allowed him to be funny and hopeful. He was cast perfectly. Now, I understand that there can only be five Best Actor Academy Award nominations. I'm going to keep Bruce Dern on my list for Nebraska even though I haven't seen that movie yet. I hear he is really, really good in it. So my five as of January 2, 2014 (in no particular order) are Dern, Phoenix, Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyer's Club), Chiwetel Ejiofer (12 Years A Slave) and Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips). That leaves, in my opinion, Robert Redford (All Is Lost) on the outside looking in. His performance was very good, but not better than the four performances I've seen and the performance I'm expecting from Dern. Unfortunately, this isn't a lifetime achievement award and while I understand that Redford has been nominated just once in his illustrious career, it does not mean he should be nominated again if his performance is not in the top five.

Likewise, I think Jonze should be nominated for a Best Director nomination. I have seen the other two movies that Jonze directed that he is most known for. I hated the movie Adaptation and I did not particularly like Being John Malkovich either. Even though I usually don't evaluate movie directors as much as I do the actors and actresses when it comes to award seasons, Jonze had something to prove. Her had potential to be a disaster. And as great as the performances of the actors could have been/were, it wouldn't have saved a serious movie like this if nobody took it seriously. There were actually quite a few funny scenes in this movie that were meant to be funny. Unfortunately, there were a few scenes in this movie too that some people laughed at as being a little too outrageous while others didn't laugh at at all. And I wondered if that sort of divided the audience some. I, personally, was won over early and able to take it all in (for the most part). That doesn't mean that I didn't question things as the movie went along...because I certainly did...a lot. The movie was weird, but I never felt like I wasn't seeing something special on the screen.

This is an artsy movie for sure. It's not for everyone. I wasn't sure if I was going to like it or not. Heck, even as I was watching it, there were times when I wasn't sure if I was liking it or not. But it came together for me at the end. I liked the twist. Maybe I should have seen the twist all along, but I usually miss these things so it was surprising for me and made the movie even more beautifully tragic. If you like the artsy type films, you'll probably like this. If you don't, I'd probably advise you to steer clear.

Plot 9/10
Character Development 9/10
Character Chemistry 9/10
Acting 10/10
Screenplay 9/10
Directing  8.5/10 (this had potential to be a disaster for Jonze, but he did the movie justice)
Cinematography 10/10
Sound 9/10
Hook and Reel 9/10 (the scenes with Phoenix will win you over early)
Universal Relevance 8.5/10 (while a tailored operating system like this won't ever happen, there are certain aspects of disconnectedness from individual to individual and individual to society that are very real)

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