Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Her or All about the High Waist Pants

Phoenix with all those pants behind him

Spike Jonze's Her is unique. It is unlike any other movie I've seen this year - or any year for that matter. It is aesthetically beautiful, succeeding in building a complete "new" world. Architecture, clothes and above all how people communicate with each other. And it doesn't feel the need to fill you in on this world with tiring exposition. The viewer just discovers it as the movie goes along.

Set in Los Angeles sometime in the near future, it tells  the story of a lonely divorced man, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with his "computer" or as it's called in the movie operating system that calls itself Samantha, played by the disembodied voice of Scarlett Johannson. The story features Theodore's interactions with his best friend Amy (Amy Adams), his ex wife (Rooney Mara) and one disastrous date with a unhinged woman (Olivia Wilde).

The movie is funny, sad, lyrical, honest, gorgeous, all at once. It works on so many levels and is compulsively watchable and enchanting at all times. What I loved about it is that it worked as a reflection of dating in this age where we interact online and meet people virtually first. Online chemistry doesn't always translate to real life, to state the obvious. We project huge fantasies into others, setting ourselves up for huge disappointments. Her riffs brilliantly on this theme. From the phone sex encounter that goes wrong - "Choke me with the dead cat" must be the funniest line in a 2013 movie - to the date with Wilde's character to the love story Theodore and Samantha .
Phoenix and Mara in happier times

The film also flashes back brilliantly to Theodore's past marriage. In a few very economical scenes it gives us that relationship and what it means to fall in love young and grow up together but grow apart as a result of growing up. It illuminates how every time you fall in love you carry baggage from previous relationships and that that is not a bad thing. The juxtaposition between the old relationship and the new one with Samantha is what I loved most. Theodore is able to understand what happened in the past and his ex - played brilliantly by Mara in an obvious homage to Jonze's ex Sofia Coppola - has a strong reaction to the implausible love between a man and his OS. She is angry, hurt and of course bewildered but mostly understands why Theodore loves Samantha. While it's very brief this is most realistic relationship in the movie. Theodore talks about it so eloquently and I couldn't help but wonder if this is an olive branch from Jonze to Coppola.

All the actors are impeccable. I wasn't a huge fan of Phoenix's "look at me" big acting in The Master despite admiring the commitment. He's very different here, introspective, quite, funny and definitely more affecting. Adams is lovely as a woman discovering more about herself and Mara is giving possibly her most recognizably honest performance. Johansson does all she can to create a character with her voice and succeeds. Although part of me wishes we didn't get such a recognizable voice to play this part.

Production design, cinematography and costumes are all top notch. I particularly liked the costumes, very beautiful and fit the world the movie was trying to create. All hail high waist pants!

While I think it's a beautiful unique world and story that I know I will visit many more times, I don't think it's an unqualified success. While part of the resolution is fantastic I couldn't relate to some aspects of the sci-fi love story. I admired Jonze's attempt to create Theodore and Samantha on equal footing but didn't entirely relate to the latter's arc. It works best as a story about growing up and discovering more about ourselves and what that does to our relationships. Theodore, his ex, Samantha and Amy all grow up resulting in them reevaluating their relationships.

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