"Her", written and directed by Spike Jonze and starring Joaquin Phoenix, is a simple, yet completely original love story. 'Original' being the operative word when talking about this film and the talents involved with it. There may be no more original an actor working today than Joaquin Phoenix and Spike Jonze has consistently proven himself to be a true original as a director with his previous films "Being John Malkovich", "Adaptation" and "Where the Wild Things Are". With "Her", they have both created a unique and fresh spin on the classic love story, this time set in the near future with the object of affection being a body-less, voice-only computer operating system (think of falling in love with 'Siri' on your iPhone).
Every element of this film is intriguing and imaginative. The setting, a Los Angeles of the near future is both sprawling, foreign, anti-septic and vaguely familiar. The costumes, which are fantastic, create a future where some of the worst looks of the past are combined to reach greater and greater heights of subtle comedy.
The cast is outstanding, with really strong supporting performances from Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Chris Pratt and Olivia Wilde. Pratt and Wilde both have small parts that easily could have fallen prey to caricature in the hands of lesser actors, but they manage to create full and interesting characters with their brief time on screen. Adams and Mara bring a powerful, genuine feminine presence to the story that is vital in keeping the story grounded in reality. Rooney Mara has a particularly riveting scene with Joaquin Phoenix that is both extremely well played and at times difficult to watch due to its honest portrayal of remnants of love lost. She has a charismatic presence that is both combative yet fragile. Amy Adams does equally excellent work with a character she effortlessly and completely inhabits.
As great as the set, the costumes, the script, the directing and the supporting cast is, the straw that stirs the drink is the performance of Joaquin Phoenix. He brings the human, the heart and the soul to the film. His work is stellar. He is heartbreaking, frustrating, fascinating and always genuine. His physicality tells most of the story. Just watching how he walks differently at different times during the arc of his character is a master class in physicality. By embracing a physical approach to the role, he accentuates his humanity in contrast to his body-less girlfriend. Comparing and contrasting his work in "Her" with his work in last years "The Master", shows Joaquin Phoenix may very well be the best actor on the planet at the moment, he is certainly the most ingenious.
One last performance has thus far gone unmentioned, and that is of Scarlett Johanssen as the voice of the Operating System that Joaquin falls in love with. If it weren't for her truly terrific work in a difficult role, this film might not have worked. Her voice is so rich, so…well….human…that you can't help but fall in love with her as Joaquin's character does. What I think makes her voice performance so good is that she doesn't play it as a voice performance, she feels alive in the room. There are times in the film when she doesn't say something, and that silence, or hesitation, is what makes her seem so real, so human, so present. It is a credit to Scarlett Johanssen that such a beautiful actress is able to remain beautiful, sexy and attractive even when you take away her physical assets, which are considerable.
In conclusion, "Her" is a truly original film well worth your time and money, and deserving of much more awards consideration than it is currently receiving. It is the most honest, human and true relationship film I have seen in a very long time. I highly recommend it.