Her-1With the Oscars merely hours away, I am afraid I have failed in watching all of the Best Picture nominees, with Philomena remaining out of my grasp (but hey, there is still just over 8 hours to go, anything can happen). But I did manage to sneak one more in before tonight’s event in the form of Spike Jonze’s Her. Oscar always tends to shine light on an indie favourite in some form of another, although usually they tend to either star a plucky female lead and/or are directed by Jason Reitman. Within my Oscar predictions, I never really gave much thought to Jonze’s film, for the reason being that it just seems to be present for Oscar to show that they’re not entirely out of whack and old-fashioned. However, that should not go to deter from what is one of the most thought-provoking and original features amongst the nine nominees this year.

Set in a not too-distant-future L.A., the film follows Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a recently divorced man who lives a lonely and closed off existence since the disintegration of his marriage to Catherine (Rooney Mara). Desperately seeking a new kind of connection, Theodore downloads the latest in computer Operating Systems, which runs on a very sophisticated form of Artificial Intelligence. Once downloaded, he begins to spark a unique relationship with his O.S., who goes by the name of Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Soon enough, Theodore and Samantha’s relationship becomes far more than even a friendship between man and machine, as she begins to show him a new way of looking at the world, as well as forcing him to address his own issues as a man in the modern age.

Her is very much the kind of high concept movie which is as Her-2much about the now as it is about its fictitious future. ‘Sci-Fi lite’ is the term I would use to describe this future courtesy of the man who delivered as Being John Malkovich. Jonze’s really quite beautiful screenplay delves into the mind of not only the modern man, but modern society, making a comment on our generation’s dysfunctional means of communication and connectivity through presenting us with a believable outlook on the future. Kudos to the production designer in particularly for filling the mise-en-scene with slight touches that place the film in a recognizable yet distinctly ‘other’ futuristic setting.

The screenplay utilizes the relationship between Theodore and Samantha in the way any ‘rom-com’ would choose to display the progression of a coupling from beginning to end, albeit with a few unique obstacles within it. The avenues and aspects the film explores is rather daring in places, and it may surprise you to see exactly where Jonze wants to take you with this high concept. A rip-off of a certain Big Bang Theory episode this ain’t. It is surprising quite how long the film is drawn out, leading to a final act which is a tad frustrating in its pacing, but one that is utterly fitting. The film displays a relationship that is far more real and honest than any of the fare we receive from numerous Hollywood romances. Emotions are genuine, dialogue is delivered with conviction, and every hiccup and bump along the way is recognizable as something we ourselves experience in our relationships, either with our friends or lovers. In the case of Theodore however, his other half happens to be an Operating System.

Her-3Joaquin Phoenix leads the proceedings with puppy-dog eyes and an impressive mustache, turning in one of the most obscure performances of his career. It is obscure for the simple reason being that this is not the role we have come to expect of him, and it is utterly refreshing to see him not only get in touch with a more sensitive and relate-able character, but to see him have fun and not in a state perpetual anguish. The contributions of the supporting cast cannot be under-sold either, with Amy Adams doing her thing as Theodore’s best friend, while Chris Pratt turns in a fun performance as Theodore’s co-worker. But the most important contribution comes in the form of the beautiful tones and intonations of Scarlett Johansson, lending a soul to Samantha, which is incredibly important to the overall success of the film.

If Her is to win anything tonight, it should be Best Original Screenplay. Jonze has always impressed with his off beat quirks and imaginative designs, but here he has never felt more relevant. His script is affecting, filled to the brim with an awareness and concern for the way in which we connect, with the final image of the film calling for us to re-address our relationships and take notice of the environment that we inhabit. It is also incredibly funny, having fun in certain details of the future design and crafting personalities for its characters. The score, courtesy of Arcade Fire, also taps into the aesthetics of the design by being recognizable, yet undoubtedly futuristic.  Her-4

Her is a film that brews on the brain. It offers you just enough through the course of the film to keep you hooked, but it seems to care more about where it leaves your mind when leaving the movie theatre. It is a film that displays the power of a simply beautiful shot and that of a perfectly judged performance. While I initially thought that it did not do much beyond what I expected of it, Her has proven to be a film which just won’t leave my mind. These two days of reflection have now led me to consider Her as a piece of understated genius. It is unique, it is original, and it is relevant. These are all qualities that many films strive for, but fail to achieve. Yet, Her makes it look easy. It does not ask you to expect to be blown away by it, instead it delivers a meditation of large themes through a modest and incredibly open fashion that should allow many people to embrace this film in a number of ways. That is something special, making Her a film which should not be taken for granted.

5/5- A film that is as much about the now as it is about the future, Her proves to be a modestly profound outlook on how we connect with each other in the modern world. Simply wonderful.