24-30 January 2014 #691


Sophia Pande

The awards season has started again and with it come the real contenders, those heavy weight films that are built to win that ultimate golden statue. This year has been a disappointing year for me personally. Up to now, I still hadn’t seen anything that I thought was exceptional, that one film that I could root for and that might persuade me to watch a certain deathly boring three-hour long ceremony.

I will certainly try to review all of the nine nominees this year, but I will say that aside from Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity" (reviewed here already) which I very much admired, I cannot think that any of them will compare, at least in my mind, with Spike Jonze's latest film – the sublime “Her” starring Joaquin Phoenix as the loveable, fumbling Theodore Twombly who falls in love with his operating system called Samantha (played beautifully by the voice of Scarlett Johansson).

Jonze started his career directing gimmicky music videos for people like the Beastie Boys, but it was 2009’s adaptation of “Where The Wild Things Are” – Maurice Sendak’s beloved children’s book that made us all sit up and notice. Here was a new voice worth listening too, possibly not fully formed, but beautifully sensitive and with a kooky but finely attuned imagination.

With “Her” Jonze has very much come into his own, writing and directing a film that is both hilarious and heartbreaking – a film about human loneliness, our growing relationship with the now ubiquitous and encroaching smart technologies, and about our deepest and sometimes our darkest desires.

Almost everything about “Her” is perfect: the film is beautifully shot, the casting impeccable, with Phoenix playing against type as a stumbling mumbling lovable goofball who has just had his heart broken by his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara), his childhood love who leaves him because he cannot deal with the harder issues.

Twombly works at a company that composes ‘beautiful, handwritten’ letters for people who cannot do it themselves; unsurprisingly he is extraordinarily good at it. We get an aching sense of the loneliness of Twombly’s life in this not too distant future in a scene where Twombly seeks company in the middle of the night in a virtual chartroom full of strange, needy women.

So when he meets Samantha, an artificially intelligent operating system that gets smarter the longer she exists, we root for their relationship. Samantha is lovely, intuitive, obviously prodigiously smart (she is a computer), and has a great sense of humour. She also adores Theodore, and soon he adores her too.

I cannot tell you how this film ends, watch it, and discover its pleasures for yourself. All I can say is that as the end grew close and I started to panic about how things would be resolved, I realised that I was in the hands of a thoughtful, intuitive storyteller who had somehow figured out the perfect, subtle ending. Her is a gem, something to treasure, for it will last. Among its many treasures is the warm and luminous voice of Scarlett Johansson – who wouldn’t fall in love with that?

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