December 21, 2014

Her Manages to Get the Best of You

 

Pantheon performance by cast and crew lead to a stone cold stunner.

By JP Spence

PHOTO COURTESY OF WARNER BROS.

<i>Her</i> Manages to Get the Best of You

Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore Twombly, a man who falls in love with his OS, in the Spike Jonze film, Her.

Just so we’re clear, Spike Jonze’s Her is the best film of 2013. Her stands apart from its contemporaries in that it doesn’t rely on historical shock (12 Years a Slave) CGI (Gravity), or F-Bombs and shock value (The Wolf of Wall St.). The story is as old as time itself but the commentary on modern love and the question of “what is love?” is thought-provoking and searing. It doesn’t pretend to be anything that it’s not as you strap in for love’s ups and downs. The intensity is real enough to relive memories and open up scars.

Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a sensitive soul who writes personal letters for other people, is slowly becoming detached from himself and the world. Twombly is suffering from depression due to a heartbreaking divorce from the only love of his life. Still not ready for people but dying from isolation, he purchases an interactive OS (Scarlett Johansson) named Samantha that evolves as human beings do. As the two become closer and lines begin to blur about the definition of love and loss, the emotions are real the whole time for both Theodore and Samantha.

This has to be Phoenix’s best work to date. Some actors you watch, other actors take you on the journey with them. Phoenix is the latter and not the former. There is no better compliment for an actor.

The same could be said for Johansson. Admittedly, I’ve watched Johansson more than I’ve watched her work but its films like this that show that she isn’t merely a pretty face. The emotion and spirit the actor conveys is so dominant that you feel that Johansson is there and your eyes are merely failing and you can’t see her. Johansson’s performance is emotional, smart, funny and honest. If the Hollywood Foreign Press or the Academy had bigger onions, she’d be nominated for this performance…and win. I know there is a pattern of superlatives here, but it’s true: this is Jonze’s best work as well. The director is already one of the most creative minds in cinema, but his technique is top notch. The mise en scene is beautiful as he either captures quiet, intense intimacy or giant panoramas to show how small and alone we are in the world. He’s captured the brilliance of the Pixies and put it on screen. There isn’t a wasted shot or throwaway scene. As a writer Jonze is thoughtful, soulful and honest to a fault. It’s also a hell of a first swing as his solo screenwriting debut. The best scenes in Her are the ones that the audience has experienced firsthand, be it euphoria, anger, panic, dread or closure. To convey that so honestly and humorously is a treat in itself. Her isn’t as loud as some of its contemporaries, but it doesn’t need to be. Once you’re in the theater, you’re emotionally invested. Can’t say that about too many films.