Her (Warner Bros., R)

her 75Between this and last year’s The Master, Joaquin Phoenix has quickly proven that he’s one of the best actors we have right now.

 

 

 

 

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Prior to seeing the new Spike Jonze film Her, my friends and I liked to make winking Arrested Development references when speaking the title, imposing a question mark at the end. Those jokes stop being funny when you see the film; from here on out, when Ann Veal is referred to as “Her?” in AD, it will make me think of Jonze’s film Her; not the other way around.

Her is a masterpiece, a breath of fresh air, a movie I don’t at all hesitate to call a classic at a time when most of the rest of the world hasn’t even gotten a chance to see it—much less let it sink in and think about it and chew on it for a while. It’s a formally adventurous film, a smart film, a funny film, and, importantly, an accessible film. It makes me realize how much I’ve missed Jonze, whose feature film directorial projects have been few and far between over the past decade.

The premise probably sounds familiar: Her is a film about a man who falls in love with his computer. Or, more specifically, his operating system—think Apple’s Siri, but smarter, more useful, more likeable. Again, I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t there a Big Bang Theory episode about this? And where Her will trump Arrested Development for the use of the pronoun “her,” it’ll make you forget about Big Bang Theory altogether.

The protagonist of Her is the likeable but melancholy Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix, who, between this and last year’s The Master, has quickly proven that he’s one of the best actors we have right now), whose job is to write personal, handwritten letters for clients who are too busy or too unpoetic to do so themselves. Her is set in the near future and Theodore looks like a younger, pastel Mr. Rogers: high-waisted, sack-like pants and colorful shirts. Theodore is often filmed in uncomfortable close-ups, and his sweetness and introversion are palpable.

Though not given a bodily form, the operating system he falls in love with is voiced by Scarlett Johansson, who decides to name herself Samantha when Theodore asks if she has a name. Johansson has, of course, a distinctive, resonant voice, and has long been one of our best young actresses (though for some reason, until this one pulled her out of her funk, she seems to have lost interest in taking roles that challenge her), and she really makes Samantha feel like a person.

There’s a lot of good stuff Her leaves you to think about: the way we live now, the way we’ll live in the near future, the nature of love. It makes the love story, so comical and kind of embarrassing to think about on the surface, plausible, credible, and moving—who hasn’t had a crush on a fictional character?

One of the film’s greatest lines, spoken by Amy, a sympathetic friend of Theodore (Amy Adams), is on this topic: “I think anyone who falls in love is a freak… It’s like a socially accepted form of insanity.” And hell, she’s talking about a guy who’s in love with his operating system. I’m in love with a movie. Which one’s worse? | Pete Timmermann

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