I’ve been dropping hints about how much I love Spike Jonze‘s new film Her since I saw it at the New York Film Festival. Now, I can really and truly get into it…Her is not only the best film I’ve seen in 2013 by far, not only the best film I’ve seen in years, but it’s very likely headed towards a spot on my all time favorite films list. Yes, Jonze has crafted something that amazing here. It’s a magical miracle of a movie in every single way. From the brilliant writing and direction of Jonze to the tender lead performance of Joaquin Phoenix to Scarlett Johansson‘s amazing supporting turn (not to mention the work of Amy Adams), the top of the line talent is doing tremendous work, while below the line there’s wonderful production design from K.K. Barrett, luminous cinematography from Hoyte Van Hoytema, and entrancing music from Arcade Fire and Karen O. On just about every level, this is a perfect film. It’s that rare bit of cinema that just grabs you deep inside, never to let go. From the first scene of this flick right up until the end credits, I was enraptured. I laughed often, was constantly moved, and when the ending came, I had tears in my eyes. This is plain and simple a beautiful movie. Nothing in 2013 can compare to Her…
So much more than the “man falls in love with Siri” plot that we all joked about earlier this year, this is a true meditation on love and our need to communicate in the modern world. Yes, there’s a slight sci-fi aspect on display, but that’s not the focus. Theodore (Phoenix) is a lonely and soon to be divorced writer at a greeting card company that specializes in custom writing handmade cards that others can’t do themselves. Theodore is their best employee, but despite being able to channel these people, in real life he’s someone who has trouble forming human connections. He once was married to Catherine (Rooney Mara), but that failed, which she blames on him. Theodore is close with his neighbor Amy (Adams) and his colleague at work Paul (Chris Pratt), but he lacks close companionship. He wants it though, periodically engaging in cyber sex. When a new operating system is launched that apparently can work as your own personal secretary and much more, he installs it and is delighted to find that his custom OS is Samantha (Johansson). She’s warm, funny, sarcastic, and encourages him, even getting him on a blind date (Olivia Wilde). Theodore seems more interested in her though, and soon she’s getting closer with him. Before long, they’re “a couple”, and in this near future, they’re not the only ones. In fact, most people seem okay with this, short of Catherine. Theodore thinks it’s true love, but Samantha is continuing to grow and evolve, leading to the potential that she may not remain as interested in him as she is in her. I won’t spoil where this goes, but it’s beautiful, heartbreaking, and real.
I loved each and every performance in this film, but there’s no denying that the true stars of this flick are Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson. Their chemistry together is amazing, so much so that you buy into this premise almost immediately. Both are completely worthy of Academy Award nominations. They’ll both likely come up a bit short, but that takes nothing away from their work. Phoenix is as tender and lovable as he’s ever been before in his career, while Johansson mixes an alluring sensuality in her voice with a wonderful thirst for knowledge and experiencing life in general. It’s one of the best voice performances I’ve witnessed in some time. Both are amazing, but both are at their best when their together, which luckily is almost all of the time for him and all of the time for her. Beyond them, there’s other very fine supporting roles on display too, notably Amy Adams, who is perfect for the role she’s got. Her character is another that goes in other directions than you’d expect, but it’s a welcome surprise too. As the character evolves, Adams delivers some great scenes, turning in the third best performance in the film. I also loved Rooney Mara and Olivia Wilde in their individual scenes (with the former bringing an alternative viewpoint onto the scene and the latter getting to be weirder than she usually is), while Chris Pratt is his reliably amusing self. Also in the cast we have Portia Doubleday in an important role I won’t dare spoil and the voice of Brian Cox (plus certain cameos), and others, but it’s 100% about Phoenix and Johansson together, falling in love. They make magic happen.
Spike Jonze has always been a talented director, but wow does he ever show that he’s a brilliant writer as well here. As much as he creates a distinctive visual look here with the aforementioned Barrett and Van Hoytema (the final shot is among the most beautiful of any this year), the world he creates as a screenwriter is where it all begins and what I fell so in love with. It even comes down to the little details, like the video game that Theodore plays for example. Jonze has made his own future Los Angeles to play in, and instead of looking to make a utopia or a dystopia, he’s just tried to keep it real, which pays terrific dividends. His direction is confident, assured, and full of love. The score and soundtrack match the movie perfectly, and he’s never directed actors as well as he does here. Still, the perfection began with his script, which is a true love story. It’s almost impossible to explain just how amazing the work is…you just have to experience it.
If I were giving out Oscars, this would walk away with Best Picture, Best Director for Jonze, Best Supporting Actress for Johansson, Best Original Screenplay for Jonze as well, Best Production Design for Barrett, and potentially even Best Cinematography for Van Hoytema. I’d of course also nominate Phoenix for Best Actor and cite it in the Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, and Best Original Song categories as well. The Academy will consider it in all those places, though besides Best Picture and Original Screenplay, Her may have a hard time cracking the ultimate lineup. It won’t be for a lack of quality though, I can assure you of that.
There’s no way to avoid hyperbole here ladies and gents, Her is a masterpiece. From the acting to the direction to the writing and everywhere else, this is so much better than I could have ever expected. From the moment I sat down back at NYFF to watch it, I was hoping for something special, but what I got was something deeply profound and meaningful to me. It’s an all time classic for my own self, but for you all, that remains to be seen. This could perhaps be my highest recommendation ever. Her is an absolute must see and the crowning cinematic achievement of 2013. Yes, it really is that good. I’d call it a must see, but that almost doesn’t hammer the point home enough. Just see it, then you’ll understand why.
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!