Joaquin Phoenix, Chris Pratt, Rooney Mara, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Matt Letscher, Olivia Wilde
Beginning with Being John Malkovich in 1999, Spike Jonze turned his strange music video fascination into a profitable enterprise on the big screen. With his fourth film, Her, Jonze continues to impress us with his dazzling and bizarre impressions on life and growth.
Telling the story of a lonely letter writer named Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with the Artificial Intelligence operating system he installs on his futuristic computer, Her explores the nature of love in how it supports each person individually. Will the perfect man or woman make us whole or is that perfection in itself a flaw?
Across his abbreviated cinematic filmography, Jonze has tackled fairly strange subject matters. Being John Malkovich is about an out-of-work puppetteer who finds a portal into actor John Malkovich’s mind, Adaptation. is about a pair of twins who struggle to adapt Susan Orlean’s novel The Orchid Thief into a movie, and Where the Wild Things Are is an adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s popular children’s classic. All three films are built on unusual premises with Where the Wild Things Are being the most traditional. All rely on differing degrees of labyrinthine narratives and all have quirky and bizarre happenings within.
Her uses conventional romantic comedy narrative threads to guide the audience in the notions of love on display, yet it is also a twisted satire about the notion of two people, one real and one just lines of computer code, falling in love and whether an artificial intelligence has the capacity to love and be loved. Phoenix never makes the weird premise feel like it’s far-fetched while the quasi-futuristic setting certainly helps smooth the audience’s perceptions of the film.
Scarlett Johansson’s superb vocal performance is the highlight of the film, though Phoenix’s vulnerability adds immeasurable depth as well. That both had to convey complex emotions without physically being present with one another exemplifies the capabilities of each actor. Amy Adams as Theodore’s longtime friend Amy is a weak point, as is Chris Pratt as Theodore’s co-worker Paul. Rooney Mara does fine work in a limited engagement on screen and Kristen Wiig has a killer vocal cameo as a lonely woman with a very unique sexual fetish.
Jonze’s film isn’t a conventional love story, just as Being John Malkovich, Adaptation. and Where the Wild Things Are aren’t conventional pictures. However, he grounds each film with a solid directorial hand that plays matter-of-factly with the bizarre stories and gives the audience the impression that they are watching real events no matter how unusual they are. That Jonze has only made four films in a career that now spans two decades is a disappointment, but he’s in good company with Stanley Kubrick and Paul Thomas Anderson who also took lengthy breaks between feataures.
November 2, 2020