Her: “two hours of watching a man’s face”

her-joaquin-phoenix-4WHEN I CAME out of watching Her, I immediately asked my housemate whom I watched it with what she thought. She paused and said with typical serenity “it was two hours of watching a man’s face” yet she found it enjoyable. That description of Her is both wholly accurate and yet a vast understatement. Yes, almost the entire film is dedicated to watching Joaquin Phoenix smile and talk to Scarlett Johansson’s voice, with only brief amounts of time showing Phoenix talk to the other actors/actresses, yet the film is utterly captivating. A true testament to Spike Jonze’s (He of Being John Malkovich, sometime Jackass and Where the Wild Things Are, fame) skill as a director and a writer and the quality of the acting on show.

In the not too distant future, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) composes letters for people who are either too busy or just too inarticulate to write it themselves. He is a talented writer, thanks to his exceeding amount of empathy. Twombly is a quiet, deeply emotional person who is suffering after getting divorced from his childhood friend Catherine (Rooney Mara). Seemingly on a whim, he buys a personalised Operating System who turns out to be more of an extraordinarily capable Artificial Intelligence, called Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) that actually moulds itself around Twombly and so they gradually fall in love with one another. Samantha and Theodore’s relationship bears a striking resemblance to a real relationship; with the obvious exception that one half doesn’t physically exist.

Scarlett Johansson is phenomenal

Her could have easily been a dreadful attempt at a sub-Wes Anderson film – a huge pile of twee, saccharine dross. But thanks to every single part being absolutely on point, it avoids that abyss with ease. The weight of the film is on two actors: Phoenix and Johansson as the majority of the film is dialogue between the two. But they bear their load with alacrity. Phoenix’s emotionally wounded Twombly is fantastic. The actor creates a character that is lonely and damaged yet intelligent and attractive; it’s obvious why his wife loved him and why Samantha falls in love with him. You could almost call Phoenix the star of the film, yet the real revelation is how utterly phenomenal Scarlett Johansson is as Samantha. She imbues her voice with a cold robotic edge but the character still comes across both seductive and emotional. Her voice-over work is so good it suggests a form where none exists.

Finally, it would be a great disservice to not mention Spike Jonze. His script is both deeply emotional whilst still being very humorous. The way he develops the relationship between Towmbley and Samantha showcases that he has a deft touch for romance (as previously shown, to a lesser extent, in Being John Malkovich) and he instils the whole ridiculous plot with just enough sensitivity and seriousness for it not feel pretentious nor a general parody of rom-coms, but somewhere in the middle. His directing also comes across as very mature. The entire film is incredibly beautiful with its diffused pastel colours, close ups of faces and soft natural light. It was a joy just to sit back and watch the cinematography show itself off. He also mostly avoids that sophomoric crutch of lingering on scenes of nature in attempt to be Terrance Malik or ‘artsy’. No, Jonze leaves the camera pointed at Joaquin Phoenix’s face and allows for the actor to subtly portray a whole wide range of emotions before your very eyes.

Her is perhaps the most romantic film in the last decade thanks to how the cast and the crew realistically portray a troubled relationship. The film was, quite simply, a joy to watch. It may be “two hours of watching a man’s face” but during that time you experience some truly beautiful things.