It doesn't happen often.
I'm hesitant to even acknowledge it. You may disagree. You may wish to argue. You may wish to argue vehemently.
I don't care. I really don't care.
There are times when I'm sitting in my seat at the end of a film and before I can even move I feel everything within me shift. This feeling, it transcends entertainment. This feeling, it transcends some abstract concept of what it means to be a good film. This feeling, it transforms who I am and what I think and how I feel in ways both tangible and intangible.
I'm hesitant to call this feeling, if it can even be contained within the realm of a feeling, as anything resembling perfection because I'm not sure that I want to add that much weight to those who will wisely enter the theater to experience what is easily and without question the best film of 2013, Her.
Spike Jonze has flirted with perfection before, though you may disagree and you may very well find him too alternative for your taste.
Again, I don't care. I really don't care. A Spike Jonze film has nearly always been about that glorious weaving together of fantasy meets reality meets cinema. It was true with Being John Malkovich. It was true with Adaptation. It was true with Where the Wild Things Are.
It is true, gloriously true, with Her.
You may not always call the films of Spike Jonze "perfect," but as a filmmaker Jonze embodies what it means to possess artistic integrity, authenticity, wonder and, my favorite word of all, tenderness.
Her, on a deep and emotional level, often reminded me of Craig Gillespie's flawed yet wondrous Lars and the Real Girl, though I can't help but imagine to myself Ryan Gosling sitting in a movie theater somewhere watching Her and muttering to himself "This is the film that I was trying to make." Indeed, while I laughed and cried and rejoiced while watching Lars and the Real Girl, Her is the film that I truly wanted it to be.
On the surface, you may believe Her to be about technology. You may even believe it to be some nonsensical film about a guy falling in love with some abstract, technologically manifested voice on a computer.
Stop. Just stop.
If you can listen. If you can pay attention. If you can truly surrender, you will be quietly, and I do stress quietly, embraced by a film that is about so much more. Theodore Twombley (Joaquin Phoenix) is a complex and deeply feeling man who spends his days writing extraordinary personal letters for other people. When a long-term relationship with Catherine (Rooney Mara) ends, Theodore is heartbroken and this leads to his curiosity about a new advanced operating system designed to be an intuitive entity individualized to each user.
This is how Theodore meets Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), a surprisingly pleasant female voice who is intelligent, insightful, unquestionably passionate, and remarkably intuitive. Simultaneously, their needs and desires grow and friendship evolves into love that transcends.
"But, Richard," I hear you saying, you said Her isn't about technology.
It's not. Her, at least for me, is about relationships and how they manifest in our lives in ways both simple and extraordinary. Samantha, you see, is no less "real" than Theodore despite the baggage, if you will, that she brings to this relationship. While there is an abundance of gentle and wise humor present within Her, Spike Jonze does not play Theodore or Samantha or love or Her for laughs.
The genius stroke of Spike Jonze is that somehow, without irony or pretentiousness, he has made all of this work in a way that avoids gimmickry and celebrates authenticity. It's as if he has as much love for Theodore and Samantha as they have for one another.
Joaquin Phoenix, who has developed a bit of a reputation as of late for being one of Hollywood's quirkier actors, reminds us once again that he is truly one of Hollywood's most natural and gifted performers. Phoenix offers nary a wink nor a nod in portraying Theodore, instead embodying the man with a world of grief and wonder and longing and sweetness and so much more. While Phoenix may not be acknowledged for offering one of 2013's finer performances, rest assured that this is a performance that should be and will be remembered for years to come.
If you've heard all the chatter about a potential Oscar nomination for Scarlett Johansson's exquisite vocal performance here, then it is only left to wonder just how Johansson, whose vocals actually replaced those of Samantha Morton after shooting was finished, managed to create such a vibrant and fully alive character through a performance that is, without question, deserving of mention alongside the year's best actresses. Amy Adams, already a potential Oscar nominee as best actress in American Hustle, gives an equally amazing performance here and could potentially see herself with a double nomination this year after this performance as Theodore's best friend.
Utilizing shots captured in both Los Angeles and Shanghai, D.P. Hoyte Van Hoytema captures a Los Angeles in the near future that is warm, inviting and yet both advanced and humane. The music, provided by Arcade Fire, serves as yet another wonderful companion for the film and manages to capture both the technological and intimate moments equally well.
Her is the first time that Spike Jonze has worked from his own script, having directed from works by both Charlie Kaufman (Adaptation, Being John Malkovich) and Dave Eggers (Where the Wild Things Are), and in so doing he has crafted a script that is surreal and sensitive, intimate and universal.
There are times. There are films.
They don't happen often.
They aren't always perfect. In fact, sometimes it is their imperfection that makes them perfect.
They transcend genre. They are, much like Samantha, vibrant and intelligent and inspired and intuitive.
For those of you who embrace Her, I'd dare say it's a film that you will never forget.
For those of you who don't embrace Her, I'm sorry. Truly sorry.
I wasn't blown away by Her. I was enveloped by it.
"We are only here briefly, and in this moment I want to allow myself joy."
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic