At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Her “2013”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Her “2013”

MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Sci-Fi Romantic Drama/Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, Matt Letscher, Luka Jones, Chris Pratt, Portia Doubleday, Steve Zissis, Alia Janine; Voices of: Scarlett Johansson, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Soko, Brian Cox, Spike Jonze/Runtime: 126 minutes

I think it’s safe to start this review off dear reader by saying that, within reason, the relationship that humanity has had with artificial intelligence in the realm of cinema hasn’t exactly been the best. Oh sure there are some good examples to the contrary, but for all of those we see that HAL turned out to be a murderer, Skynet just wanted to commit human genocide on a global scale, the Master Control Program from Tron was just a jerk and a half, and Johnny 5 just wanted to annoy the absolute heck out of a single slightly comedically grumpy film critic (that would be me incidentally). Yet out of all of the examples found in the realm of cinema I can’t recall the last time an A.I. actually fell in love with a human being despite being nothing more than a voice with no corporeal form whatsoever. Thankfully, that very narrative hook also happens to be the plot of the slice of cinema I am reviewing for you all today in the shape and form of 2013’s Her from iconic film helmer Spike Jonze. Indeed is this slice of cinema a perfect 21st century man meets Siri-type love story for the ages that will have even Romeo and Juliet green with envy (as opposed to the poison provided to them by Friar Lawrence)? Sadly no….much to the dismay of both the Montagues and the Capulets to say nothing of the great William Shakespeare himself I’m sure. At the same time, is this one romance that is so cookie-cutter and predictable in its approach and filmmaking that you’d swear you were watching a Hallmark movie? Thankfully that is definitely not the case either. Indeed, it might not be a slice of cinema that sees its helmer venture too far from material he is most comfortable with, but even with that in mind there is no denying that, with potent work on both sides of the camera, Her is a genuinely comedic, perceptive, sincere, and ultimately quite moving saga at both intimacy and the worry, happiness, and cautious optimism of trying to find someone to love and who will love us back in the modern world albeit through one of the more unorthodox lenses I have seen in quite some time.

The plot is as follows: Taking place in a very near future version of L.A., the slice of cinema that is Her gets its intriguing narrative underway by introducing us to our main hero who takes the form of a guy by the name of Theodore Twombly. A guy who, despite being an immensely moving and quite skilled ghost writer for the correspondence company that he is an employee of, is someone who is going through quite the rough patch in his life. A rough patch that takes on the shape of an elongated and quite excruciating breakup from his childhood love Catherine that is about to reach an end courtesy of a divorce. As a result, our main hero has not only very much been set adrift from an emotional perspective by this, but he is also not even close to being himself by any stretch of the imagination. Yet despite having a few wonderful friends who genuinely love and care about him, including a video game programmer/aspiring documentary filmmaker neighbor named Amy, we see that what our heartbroken schlub desires above all else is companionship that is not of the friend sort if you get my drift. Of course, as we all know, it is in moments like these where life takes great delight in throwing a surprise or two our way and that is definitely what it has in mind for our hero after we see him buy an advanced version of a Siri-like A.I. operating system that is not only highly aware, but is also designed to progress and transform over time. Upon the A.I. coming online and giving herself (?) the name of Samantha, we see that she quickly is able to win over a happy and captivated Theodore with how enlightening and congenital she turns out to be. I mean not only does she aid him in bringing a degree of structure and foundation to his life, but she also helps him pen emails and keeps him up to date on everything much in the way that a devoted personal assistant would. Suffice it to say that it isn’t long before not only has Samantha managed to become a genuine friend to our lonely and withdrawn hero that he starts to spend nearly every single waking moment with, but (as is prone to happen in these situations) we see that this rather unique bond between man and A.I. manages to transform into something a bit more than just best buddies. However, despite the love between the two being seemingly genuine in every possible way, it isn’t long before Theodore starts to have some doubts. Not only on if what he and Samantha have is in fact real, but if this romance between them is merely operating as more of a glorified band-aid to allow him time to heal so that eventually one day he will be able to go out and try to form a legitimate attachment with another female human being again. Suffice it to say that by the time the movie is done you will know the answers to these questions……

Now, even with it being able to work in quite a few ideas revolving around both the power love can have on our lives to say nothing of the impact that the forces of both technology and ease can have on our collective ability to reach out and form connections with other people, it should still be said that this slice of cinema is very much a pathos-driven and incredibly multilayered glimpse. Not only into our hope to reach into the darkness and find someone to form a connection with mind you, but also into how technology has made it ironically easier for us to disconnect and isolate from others rather than form connections with them instead. In that regard, this slice of cinema proves to be a very somber as well as personal, but also quite comedic at times glimpse into connecting with others and relationships that also says a lot about us as people. As such, the work being done behind the camera is brilliantly on-point in bringing this slice of cinema vividly to life for all of us. This starts with the tender and genial work done by the cinematography department which also reveals not only a terrific comprehension for the level of pathos on display, but also that permits the camera to get close to what occurs yet also not get in the way or butt in on anything going on. We also see that this slice of cinema’s soundtrack proves to be a beautiful yet also regret-laden blend of optimism and gloominess that I wouldn’t be surprised if it makes onto your must-listen to playlist for quite a while after watching this. Finally, it should be noted that if this slice of cinema is not quite able to be viewed by you as a complete gamechanger, then this is because the commentary it is delivering isn’t exactly the main concentration of this film, but then Jonze has never been one to really overanalyze anything. Rather, we see that this helmer as of late has done a wonderful job at making his films heartfelt and genuinely earnest. Yes, comedy is still very much a part of his directorial tool kit, but it is also comedy that is very much realistic, natural, and relatable. Indeed if there is a flaw to be found in the work done behind the camera, it might be the fact that if you are someone who is aware of the work done by this helmer in the years leading up to this movie, you might not exactly be too surprised by what he chooses to operate with since other projects he had done around this time operated with the same concepts. Even with that in mind though, there is no denying that in terms of the work being done behind the camera, this slice of cinema truly is both satisfying as well as phenomenal in every sense of the word.

Of course, the other big element that is key to both making this story as relatable as possible as well as bringing it vividly to life would be the cast of players that are assembled in front of the camera to bring the various characters to life. In that regard, I think it can be said that this slice of cinema is quite successful since everyone in front of the camera (both physical and vocal work) manages to do top-tier work here. This starts (surprise surprise) with Joaquin Phoenix in the lead role of Theodore and he is fantastic. Indeed Phoenix has long been one of the land of movie magic’s more delightfully eclectic yet also riveting performers and here he does a fantastic job at really immersing himself in this brokenhearted and lonely guy in such a way that he manages to be not only genuinely soulful and riveting especially in the moments where we witness him opening up to Samantha, but also realistic and sympathetic as well as we see his ever-evolving relationship with Samantha actually begin bit by bit to help the broken shards of his heart begin to come back together again as well. Suffice it to say that this is truly a mesmerizing performance, but from Phoenix I must admit that I can’t really say that I am all that surprised. Perhaps the biggest delight performance-wise however is from a talent who isn’t once ever seen on screen, but rather only heard. That of course would be the always incredible Scarlett Johannson in the vocal role of Samantha. Indeed Johannson has always been a remarkable talent and here she manages to prove it as, with just her voice, she manages to make what could have been a one-note character into one that is incredibly multidimensional to the point that the emotional exchanges between her and Theodore in this feel less like exchanges between a human being and Siri and more like ones that the characters in Before Sunrise would have by way of the highly underrated 1984 gem Electric Gems. Suffice it to say it is one heck of a performance and just further proof of Johannson’s talents as an actress. We also get a wonderful human turn here from the eternally delightful Amy Adams as Theodore’s close friend/neighbor Amy. Indeed it really does say something that, for all the wonderful performances that this immensely talented actress has already managed to gift audiences with over the years, she still manages to find roles that enable to keep on delightfully surprising us. Suffice it to say that her role in this is no exception as here Adams might take on a part that on one side of the coin would have been played by Diane Keaton if this had been made in the 70s/80s and on the other could easily have fallen into seriously troubling cliché territory, but manages in that magical way of hers to make it one that is equal parts brilliant and also wonderfully endearing as well. Suffice it to say that when you also factor in fairly poignant physical turns from Rooney Mara as Theodore’s ex Catherine, Olivia Wilde as a blind date that Theodore is set up with that doesn’t exactly go well to put it lightly, a delightfully affable Chris Pratt as Theodore’s boss at work, and really good vocal work from such talents as Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, and screen icon Brian Cox it’s clear to me dear reader that this slice of cinema might have its fair share of issues, but the work being done by the talented cast of players in front of the camera is most assuredly not one of them.

All in all is Her a perfect slice of cinema? I’m sorry to say it, but no. On the other hand, is this one technology-oriented movie that has more flaws to it than dial-up and/or AOL? Honestly I can thankfully say that is most assuredly not the case either. Indeed it might have a few glitches here and there, but otherwise I really did dig the heck out of this movie dear reader. I mean here is a beautifully distinct, sarcastically amusing, poignantly performed, skillfully made, and intricately immersive reflective slice of cinema dealing with not only the relationship that we as human beings have with technology, but also with the relationship that we have with other people as well. To be sure, this 4th slice of cinema helmed by iconic auteur Spike Jonze, and the first he has managed to craft from an original story, might not be every single couple out there’s poster child for what they might consider to be top of the line material to watch for a romantic date night and truthfully, I completely get that. If on the other hand though, you and your significant other are either fans of the other works in Jonze’s filmography including Being John Malkovich, of unique sci-fi films, or both then I am definitely willing to believe that this slice of cinema might be up your particular alley instead. Suffice it to say then dear reader that Her “2013” is one boy meets Siri love story that looks to what could be in order to make us aware of things about the human condition and the relationships we form along the way that we should know about just as much in the here and now as well. Make of that what thou will. On a scale of 1-5 I give Her “2013” a solid 4 out of 5.