Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson (voice)
Director: Spike Jonze
Rating: Four stars
It’s a fun date. The cocktails are mind-spinning, the conversation’s delirious, and for dessert, there’s some old-fashioned smooching. His tongue’s extra-wet, though: she suggests a lip-to-lip restriction, wonders if he’ll ever hook up with her again, he’s not sure, she withdraws her lips, huffing, “You’re one creepy dude.”
Quite hilarious and quite heart-breaking actually. Because the man’s zapped. What does commitment have to do with a night-out over strawberry daiquiris?
That’s just one of the casually cool vignettes in Spike Jonze’s Her, an imaginative riff on relationships to be in the near-future. Located in an antiseptically clean Los Angeles, exact year unspecified, that hyper-tongued man’s love story is engrossing from the first frame to the last. Besides serving entertainment unlimited on a platter, the script’s also a cautionary tale against emotional exploitation.
Ever thought of weighing the partner’s feelings on the scale of a relationship, be it a one-night stand or marriage? Although a male is in prime focus here, the women in his life are as, if not more, empathetic. They try to cope with the goofball guy, but he isn’t sensitive enough to appreciate or acknowledge their strengths.
Take another unforgettable scene: divorce papers have to be signed at a café. The woman hesitates, obviously hoping that he’ll suggest a reconciliation, he wants to but his ego won’t let him. The bloody idiot!
So if Her is a meditation of the age-old war of the genders, where does the futuristic element come in? In the film’s USP, an ‘organising system’ or a gadget, which fills the void in the life of the about-to-be-divorced Theodore Townsby (Joaquin Phoenix) - a professional wordsmith who writes letters for inarticulate lovers.
Keyboards have become outmoded, just talk and the text appears automatically on the computer’s monitor. It’s an age of advanced blue-tooths which enable thought sharing, sifting through emails, and instant buys of a thingamajig which can be a constant companion, office secretary, Agony Aunt, and some more.
The ‘humanisation’ of computers – flashback to Stanley Kubrick’s HAL 9000 of 2001: A Space Odyssey – receives a twisty edge here. The smartphone-sized Organising System acronymed ‘OS’ (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) bonds big-time with her ‘master’ Thedore, initially keeping a crisp distance but steadily transforming into an obsession, simulated sexual sessions included. Oddly enough, you never require to suspend your sense of disbelief, pervaded instead by the belief that yup, these are the shape of things to come.
“You’re in love with your f’****ng laptop,” Theodore’s berated, to which even a rational viewer may ask, “Well,why not?”
Gizmo who has christened herself Samantha, however, conceals an instinct for freedom, like the other OGs. She can’t play the submissive soulmate forever, or endure dependence on his terms. Intercuts detail Theodore’s failure to connect with anyone, be it an ex-flame (Amy Adams) or a woman programmed to make love, all of which are dealt with in a complex and yet decipherable manner.
Equally affecting is the man’s occasional submission to the ordirinariness of life, like his solo outing to a beach or eavesdropping on a couple who may or may not be married. People watching becomes a game, compelling us to recollect the many times when we ourselves have studied others, inquisitive about the status of their relationships.
Correctly, no facile answers are offered to the floating relationships of Theodore Townsby. The concluding section is touching because of its timelessness. This is how people fall in and out of love. An argument over kicking off shoes in the drawing room after a working day could spark a permanent separation. Or it could be a fall-out over the question of raising children, subtly suggested by a scene showing a knee-high girl’s birthday party. “Yes, I’m adorable,” she silences the fawning adults tersely.
Jonze’s playfulness and a flair for the absurd (evidenced earlier in his Being John Malkovich) are enhanced by an exceptional production design. Without being excessively geeky, the futuristic lifestyle is conveyed through colour-coordinated pastel interior designs, shades of red casting a warm glow over the visuals.
The cinematography, the minimalist music score, costumes and set décor are in sync with the dramaturgy, consistently, Thedore’s shirts and jackets being thoroughly retro-chic.
Of the performances, Joaquin Phoenix is inspired, even flawless, although challenged by the expressive voice-dub by Scarlett Johansson as his gizmo girl. Amy Adams is needlessy down in the mouth though, as if she were recovering from a bout of flu.
Nominated for five Oscars, Her faces stiff competition from Seven Years A Slave and American Hustle, in the Best Picture category. Its chances are brighter for Best Production Design and almost sureshot for the Best Original Screenplay, the Best Original Score and the Best Song – The Moon Song crooned by the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s frontswoman Karen O. Lore goes that it was recorded in the songstress’ dining room, the moment she leapt up from her couch after reading the script.
Here’s an upper, then, that’s a fusion of heart and hardware. Don’t think twice, Her is the ticket of the week.