Her is undoubtedly one of the best films I’ve seen this year. That’s an extraordinarily bold claim to make, I know, but I stand by every single word of it. How Spike Jonze, talented as he may be, was able to use such well-worn subject matter to write something of this caliber is beyond me, though perhaps all those years of working with Charlie Kaufman (their collaborations include Being John Malkovich and Adaptation., both of which I am now absolutely dying to see) really rubbed off on him.
Her encompasses so much within its mere 126 minutes, yet it is really just about Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix, in one of his most powerful performances), a depressed, introverted greeting-card company employee hurting from a recent divorce. However, his world starts opening up upon meeting a very unlikely friend: Samantha, an extraordinarily advanced female AI system (she’s voiced by Scarlett Johanasson, not Microsoft Anna), and one so sweet and compassionate that Twombly can’t help falling in love with.
In order for any of that to even remotely make sense, such a film has to be set in the future, and so Her is, albeit in such a perfectly subtle, natural way that it isn’t even noticeable at first. The futuristic world depicted here isn’t populated with flying cars or flashy techno music (in fact, Arcade Fire’s fantastic score is very low-key), but ordinary people living ordinary lives among crowded subways, tight cubicles, and lonely apartments. This could have looked pretty grim or dull in other hands, and even though the film in general is quite melancholic, the soft, warm pinks and whites present in every corner of the cinematography perfectly complements the central story. And what a story it is.
As a romantic drama updated for the tech age, Her is beautifully moving without ever feeling schmaltzy or unearned, and—shockingly enough—it is surprisingly unpredictable without ever feeling scattered or inconsistent. Hidden underneath, however, is a gentle, yet profoundly (and often hilariously) effective satire on our relationship with technology, filled with truly affecting moments that are guaranteed to stick with me forever (just one being Samantha realizing that she doesn’t have any actual sentience, as much as that may seem to be the case).
As for now, there are two films that are currently part of the year’s holiday regimen: Planes, Trains and Automobiles for Thanksgiving, and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation for Christmas Eve (Die Hard probably being a good choice for the day before that). Her may just have to become the third, as a bittersweet addition to Valentine’s Day that will always touch me, no matter who I share it with.