Film Review: Her

Letter writer Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) hasn’t been particularly lucky in love since his wife left him. However, after meeting and hitting it off with Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), it seems things are looking up. The only thing is Samantha is a computer operating system.

The genius of Spike Jonze’s Her is that it takes a concept that should feel completely alien and beyond any realm of possibility and makes it feel totally normal. We don’t know when it’s set or even where it’s set, and yet we buy into it immediately as if their world is our own.

Jonze has superbly melded a science fiction future with the ubiquitous social and political trappings of the present, which succeeds in giving us a doorway into Theodore’s world, his hopes & dreams and, significantly, his failings.

As Theodore gets the train to work, he and his fellow commuters are absorbed in their technology, be it a mobile phone or their very own OS. This might be a vision of the future, but is that really any different from where we’re at today? There’s little to no communication between human beings; Theodore’s job involves writing letters on behalf of people who can’t express themselves and there are very few genuine and happy human relationships in the film.

This laces the film with a sense of melancholia and loneliness, mirroring Theodore’s own feelings. That is until Samantha turns up. Scarlett Johansson’s disembodied Samantha may not be a real person, but to Theodore she’s perfect. The two share intimate conversations and you get a genuine sense of their relationship growing, regardless of Samantha not having a physical presence. Even when the two are ‘intimate’ with each other, it feels more like a triumph than anything seedy or sordid.

Some are accepting of Theodore and Samantha’s relationship, whilst some are less so. This immediately brings to mind the idea of forbidden love, mixed-race relationships and other similar themes. Is their relationship wrong or weird? Does it really matter?

Her

What’s clear is that they seemingly make each other happy, and that comes across wonderfully in the performances of the two leads. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is perfectly awkward and understated, and he manages to encapsulate the excitement and nervousness of a new relationship, the insecurities that come with it and the feelings when it’s perhaps not going so well. His performance is further enhanced by Jonze’s direction. The abundance of long takes and close-ups allow the minutiae of his personality to seep out and build a more believable character.

Scarlett Johansson has the peculiar task of playing a disembodied voice, yet brings so much life to the character that you never doubt she’s any less real than the other characters in the film. Johansson and Phoenix are totally believable as a couple, and considering only one of them has physical form, that’s quite an achievement.

The only real misstep the film takes, for me, is in its ending. It feels slightly curtailed and abrupt, which one could argue is a metaphor in itself, but it also stretches the realms of possibility and believability that little too far. It did little to hamper enjoyment of the film, but it did feel like the filmmakers were unsure of how to bring it to an end.

Her is the kind of film that doesn’t come around all that often. It’s genuinely heartfelt, looks stunning, and is an intriguing examination into human interaction and our evolving relationship with technology. Above all, it feels fresh and original, and that’s always something that should be celebrated.

Pros

  • Genuinely heartfelt and believable
  • Great performance from Joaquin Phoenix
  • Amazing voice work from Scarlett Johansson
  • Stunning cinematography

Cons

  • Ending stretches the realms of possibility slightly too far

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

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49 thoughts on “Film Review: Her

  1. CMrok93 says:

    Such a wonderful, little beauty of a flick that stands no chance in winning the big one, but you know what? I will still continue to hold out hope no matter what! Good review.

  2. The more I read about this film, the more eager I am to watch it! I’m sure it will snatch up some awards on Sunday. Sorry to hear about the ending, but so many films have inadequate endings that I doubt it will bother me too much 🙂

  3. jjames36 says:

    Agreed on almost every point. The movie is very sweet and well composed. It is also thematically powerful. I also think the ending rushed.

    The only thing I’ll add is that the surrogate lover scene didn’t work for me, at all. I wish she had been getting paid – then her actions would make sense to me.

    • It certainly is an odd scene. I thought it worked OK but I think you’re right, it would have worked better if she was getting paid. I think Jonze wanted to show the lengths people would go to just to be close to people, but it would have been more interesting to show her as some kind of new age prostitute.

      • jjames36 says:

        I hadn’t thought of your interpretation, that she is meant to illustrate what some might be willing to do for momentary connection to an actual person. But you could be right.

        And that goal is not without value. But I don’t think it worked particularly well.

        Anyway, good point!

  4. It’s such a joke that ScarJo didn’t get nominated for anything, she’s absolutely running! Terrific work, bud :).

    • Thanks mate! It’s a weird one, isn’t it? There’s definitely a gap here for actors who do voice work, it’s the same for those in animated films. This is even more impressive though as it’s literally just her voice.

  5. Great review, Chris. I wasn’t such a big fan of Her, though. Thought it was dull and disliked Samantha, despite great performances and visuals.

  6. Abbi says:

    You know you’re very right about the end. It is quite random but overall it’s just such a gem that it’s completely forgivable.

  7. ruth says:

    YAY! Glad you love this too Chris. Johansson and Phoenix are amazing in this, and you’re right it’s so believable they’re a couple, it’s as if she’s just away and they’re talking on the phone, y’know. I was so impressed by Scarlett’s voice work that I even posted about how she should’ve been considered for an award for voice acting!

    • Hey Ruth! You really do feel as if Samantha’s a real person, Scarlett did a fantastic job. I wonder if she would have been eligible for a best actress Oscar or whether there are strict rules? There should have been a concession made if there was a rule stopping her.

  8. Great, interesting review Terry. I can see the appeal here, but for some reason Her didn’t really hit me as much it did many others. I enjoyed the oddball conversations between Phoenix and Johansson, and thought they were brilliant in their roles, but i felt Jonze overplayed the man-machine card. Which is a weird thing to be annoyed at, considering the whole premise of the film is Theodore’s relationship with Samantha. Hmm, maybe i need to give it another watch when all the Oscar dust settles.
    Adam.

    • Cheers Adam. I get that this film isn’t going to be for everyone but it just worked for me. It was highly stylised and quite niche but it was nice to see something so original. Definitely give it another watch mate, hope you like it a bit more.

  9. That, sir, is a definitive review. Really nice work Chris; knew you’d love this.

  10. dbmoviesblog says:

    Great review. Cannot wait to see this one.

  11. keith7198 says:

    Great review Chris! Most people really loved this film. I had a few issues with it but still appreciated it and what it was trying to do.

  12. It’s awesome! I would love to see this win Best Film, but it’s a long shot. Still….great review, Chris!

  13. Great review! It’s a charming film, and Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson were great in it.

  14. Beer Movie says:

    Nice work man. I think this is my favourite film of the year so far. I loved your first paragraph. Sums up for me why the film works so well for me.

  15. Mark Walker says:

    Great to see you rate this so highly, Chris, and great review. You already know my thoughts on it.

    I actually quite liked the ending but I’d have to give it another viewing and some more thought as it can be interpreted a few ways

    • Thanks Mark, you were right about this being a great film. The ending wasn’t a big sticking point for me, but there was just something about it that didn’t quite feel right. I definitely want to give it another go though.

  16. chris2508 says:

    A really good review here, I’m still loving the pros and cons section. I’ve heard only good things about this, it sounds like a real treat.

  17. Lovely review, and so detailed. Glad you liked it. Her is one of the most original and unique films I’ve seen in a long, long time. Spike Jonze is a creative and fascinating filmmaker who has written and directed his most complete and poignant film yet.

  18. 70srichard says:

    I had just posted my own review when I then looked in my reader and found your post. I feel like I’m behind the curve on this, was it a recent release there or are you just getting to it like I am. I agreed with most of the points you made, To me the ending is a little sad but also disturbing. The Science Fiction elements seem more real to me than if the AI had suddenly gone Skynet on us. We are suddenly capable of being hurt by the very thing that is supposed to rescue us from that type of pain. We want love to be unique and special, and it needs to be a zero sum game for the human value we place on it. The greatest punch in the gut came when we discover that Samantha is a serial lover of epic proportions. Theodore doesn’t have a chance emotionally. He stepped up in class and gets socked in the heart.

    • It’s only been released recently here, a few weeks ago. We get all the big Oscar films much later than the US it seems. Some interesting thoughts there; it was how real and possible it felt that impressed me. Almost everything about it (aside from where Samantha leaves) really felt like it was a possibility. I did like that she is in love with lots of others though and she doesn’t see that as a problem, her view of love is clearly different to most humans’.

  19. Popcorn Nights says:

    Still haven’t seen it! Not on at my local Odeon any more but I will probably be able to catch it somewhere else in the next couple of weeks. So nothing much of note to add but enjoyed reading – every review I’ve read has made me look forward to it a little bit more.

  20. This is a gorgeous movie, so rich with ideas and themes. I was talking about it for days after I saw it. I’m pleased it was awarded Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars this week – very well deserved. Although I agree with you that the ending felt a little bit rushed. Great review Chris.

  21. Nostra says:

    I never felt the ending was abrupt or out of place. The OS’es developed so quickly that they decided that they no longer needed that interaction with humans. And then they created Skynet 😉

    • Haha, imagine this as a prequel to Terminator! I understood what happened at the end but it just didn’t quite work for me. Everything else felt as if it was rooted in reality but that just seemed to stretch reality a bit too far. But it didn’t stop me liking the film as a while whatsoever.

  22. Zoë says:

    Brilliant review! I hear so many amazing things about this. I hope that I like it.

  23. table9mutant says:

    Sorry I fell so behind with the blogathon so only reading this now. I LOVED this movie. Second favorite I’ve watched this year (after Wolf of Wall Street). The performances were excellent, especially from Johansson, who I never liked before this… Couldn’t believe how much I bought into their relationship.

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