Monday, January 20, 2014

2013 Awards Circuit: Her Review

2013 Awards Circuit

Her Review


The 2013 Award Circuit will be a collection of reviews of films that are in some kind of award runnings within the months of January through March. Not only will this prepare me for the big night (AKA Oscar Night), but it will also allow me to catch up with some of the critically acclaimed films I missed out on in 2013. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy watching and writing them.

Director Spike Jonze has a specific talent, he likes to wrap a fist around audience's emotional center and squeeze very tightly.

Think back on "Being John Malkovich," "Adaptation" and "Where The Wild Things Are," all three of those films drown me with tears, yet they hit me emotionally in very potent, different ways. I firmly believe that Jonze is a director capable of shooting anything possible. With a film like "Her" to add to his filmography, I think that further proves my point. "Her" left me devastated, Jonze aimed for my heart once again and he hit it on the bullseye. Yet, amidst the suffering, the film tells us that there is always room to heal and that may be the most beautiful message in any film from 2013. 

Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore, a man who writes letters for people so that they can send them to loved ones. Theodore has a particular talent of reading between the lines, figuring people out without ever once meeting them, which makes his job at Beautiful Handwritten Letters a breeze. Yet, not all is happy in Theodore's life, he has recently experienced a terrible divorce with his wife, the pain so severe that Theodore has pretty much isolated himself from everyday life. One day walking to work, he sees a commercial for OS, a modified AI that can be installed to all personal devices, he gives it a try. He is very soon introduced to Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) the female voice for his personal OS. She isn't the AI system we are used to in these kinds of movies. Samantha has wit, a clear personality, flair and completely ambitious. She seems energized to learn all she can about our world and human behavior in general and that really wakes Theodore out of his funk. He is instantly connected to her and feelings begin to sprout almost instantly.

This is a powerful showcase for Phoenix and he proves, once again why he is one of our most reliable actors in Hollywood. After viewing this movie, it boggles my mind he didn't get an Oscar Nomination. But its Phoenix, he's had a somewhat negative history with the Academy, and if he didn't, perhaps things would have been different this year. Phoenix has gift of always creating a different person in each of his films. Sounds easy, but very few actors can pull it off. Brad Pitt always puts his personal stamp on all of his roles, so does Clooney, so does Streep, so does Bullock and a host of other actors. Does not mean those are actors are bad, just most of their material feels familiar. If you were to watch Phoenix in "Gladiator," "Signs," "The Village," "The Master" and "Her," not one character he creates is like the other. He creates a new, genuine experience every time we sit down to watch him and that is true talent.

Johansson is playing very far out of her comfort zone, and I give her a lot of credit for making it look so easy. It had to have been hard to create an entire character full of emotion and depth without ever once showing her face or body language. Yet Johansson gives Samantha great life while remaining faceless the entire movie. She is not the usual sex symbol we are used to seeing her as, but she totally works in the movie. She makes us believe in the relationship Samantha creates with Theodore, and that is incredibly impressive for never showing us her facial emotions.

The rest of the cast is solid as well. The year 2013 was good to Olivia Wilde, she was great in both "Rush" and "Drinking Buddies," and she proved her range in her brief moment again in this film. I also loved Chris Pratt's few moments which he made memorable. Rooney Mara played Phoenix's ex-wife and her few scenes were dazzling. Amy Adams reunited with Phoenix, though she plays a much different character than she did in "The Master," yet both Adams and Phoenix prove that there chemistry was not some fluke, and that they are capable of creating anything out of anyone.

I love the script Jonze worked with in this movie. The film's "slight future" of Los Angeles is truly breathtaking and completely believable. There are a few scenes when Theodore plays an outer space video game, and the attention to detail is astounding. The game looks like something that is based off the Xbox or PlayStation games of today, and I can't believe what Jonze was able to pull off. All the technology felt like it was based off of our technology now and I completely bought into the future Jonze captured on film.

Yet through all the great performances and beautiful pictures, "Her" is a film full of ideas. We live in age where many people live separate lives online and often they create completely separate personas of who they really are. "Her" somewhat taps into that without fully going overboard with that idea and I loved that about the film. "Her" also had lots of intelligent ideas about loneliness and what people use technology to cope with that loneliness. All of these realizations made "Her" an overly-emotional experience to sit through. Jonze walks on a tightrope between fiction and nonfiction here, and he does so with confidence and clarity, while also leaving room for us to think. I also love how well Samantha is handled as a character here. It seems weird thinking that a robot is capable of feeling love, yet Jonze made it all feel natural. There are a few scenes where Samantha and Theodore question their relationship and got me thinking: Is Samantha really falling for Theodore? Or is she just saying what she feels Theodore needs to hear? It's gray territory I never expected to see in this film and I give Jonze tons of credit for pulling off something so provocative.

In the end, "Her" was a wholehearted, piercing and deep experience and I hope all of you indulge in it sometime very soon.

FINAL GRADE: A

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