Sunday, January 19, 2014

HER (2014)

Directed & written by: Spike Jonze
Studio: Warner Bros.
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Rooney Mara

Review by James Colt Harrison

Los Angeles has frequently been a stand-in for other cities, be they American or European. But director Spike Jonze has done something unique to capture Los Angeles in the future; he has shot his film Her in Shanghai, in the newish Pudong District. Using the beyond-space age architecture, he has infused the real Los Angeles skyline with that of Shanghai, used CGI to an extent, and created what might possibly---and believably be---the Los Angeles of tomorrow. It’s production design at its best by K.K. Barrett with design input by New York architect Elizabeth Diller.

Because we are all in the midst of a digital upheaval that touches our lives in a daily fashion, humans are becoming more and more detached from each other and are becoming more involved—or “intimate with”—our gadgets, our cell-phones, our computers to the detriment of human contact. And there-in lies the crux of Jonze’s futuristic story for this film.

Joaquin Phoenix (Theodore) plays a nerdy but cool letter writer for those who don’t have that skill. He’s poetic, romantic, and sensitive. All of those personal attributes are bonuses in his job. Unfortunately, his personal life is not so perfect because his wife (Rooney Mara) is divorcing him. His eloquent nature has deserted him when it comes to dealing with his wife. This leaves him rudderless and adrift emotionally.

He resorts to some funny phone sex episodes to keep himself busy, and plays virtual video games in his swanky downtown LA high rise. This leads him to experiment using a new electronic Operating System called Samantha.  Perhaps this can provide him with a better-than-real experience. Samantha is voiced by actress Scarlett Johansson, and a fine job she does of being seductive, kittenish, playful, insightful, and sexy. Theodore is intrigued, and he begins an unusual relationship with his Operating System, even though it is not a flesh and blood relationship with a live girl. To him it seems real, and even better than getting involved with the emotions of a real woman such as his wife.

At times, the relationship gets too intimate and the viewer is left with a squeamish feeling that the “couple” is being eavesdropped. It’s a feeling of “oh, no, I’m seeing a bit too much of this,” and yet the reality of it is that one person is a human and the other is a machine. Yet the uneasiness is there. It’s not a comfortable feeling for the viewer.

The film is entirely too “talky” with no movement to speak of in the body of the story. With Phoenix talking to his operating system and Johansson a disembodied voice on the other end and never seen, the film simply becomes an exercise in watching somebody talking to himself. The original idea was an intriguing one, but as it works out the movie is ultimately boring and static. Phoenix is sweet-natured and vulnerable, but that is not enough to make for an engrossing movie.

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