Writer-director Spike Jonze is a man of fascinating contradictions.
On one hand, he is a co-creator of the Jackass TV series and films, which revel in bad taste humour.
On the other, he is the Oscar-nominated visionary responsible for the films Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Where The Wild Things Are, which refuse to pander to the whims and expectations of the masses.
If common sense and justice prevail, Jonze should finally get the Academy Award statuette he richly deserves for his script to this haunting and heart-breaking romance.
Her takes our fascination with technology as a means to forge personal relationships to the next level, imagining a love story between a man and his home computer’s voice-activated operating system.
Jonze elicits a tour-de-force central turn from Joaquin Phoenix as his unexpectedly love-struck protagonist and a sexy vocal performance from Scarlett Johansson as the evolving artificial intelligence who begins to question her limitations.
Phoenix plays Theodore Twombly, a shy, introverted man who has been emotionally scarred by the impending divorce from his sweetheart (Rooney Mara). Theodore channels his hopelessly romantic soul into his work for a website which creates heartfelt love letters for customers who struggle to find the right words.
On the way home one day, he hears about new technology that claims to be ‘not just an operating system – it’s a consciousness’. Intrigued, Theodore signs up and he creates an OS with a female identity; Samantha (voiced by Johansson) is born. At first, she takes care of his day-to-day tasks but gradually, Samantha coaxes Theodore out of his shell and encourages him to rake over the coals of his failed marriage.
Intimacy between Theodore and Samantha leads to phone sex.
‘Last night was amazing,’ coos Samantha. ‘It feels like something has changed in me... You woke me up.’
It also wakes up Theodore, who surfs the crashing waves of first love again, while trying to keep secret the identity of his new lover from friends including Amy (Amy Adams).
Jonze wears his heart on his sleeve from the beguiling opening frames and treats his central pairing across the real and digital realms with tenderness. Phoenix is extraordinary, performing in close-up without any other human presence for long periods. Aching emotions are captured in every wrinkle and contour of his face, and he visibly lights up as the romance with Samantha becomes swoonfully serious.
Johansson is equally terrific and their on-screen chemistry makes our hard drives whirr with unabashed pleasure.
It may only be February, but it’s hard to imagine another film this year seducing my heart so completely as Her.