Director Spike Jonze is mostly known for delivering strange, offbeat films that feature lonely and displaced characters. In 1999, Jonze released his debut film, Being John Malkovich, and earned himself an Academy Award nomination for Best Director. In 2002, he presented an odd film about screenwriting with the film titled Adaptation, and in 2009 Jonze dazzled audiences with the film adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book Where the Wild Things Are. Later this month, Jonze will deliver his take on modern romance in the film Her. Now Warner Bros. has released a new trailer focusing on the film’s unconventional sci-fi love story.
While the trailer is neatly put together and intriguing, I can’t shake the feeling that Her was one of my most disappointing movies of 2013. Her follows Theodore Twombly, played by Joaquin Phoenix, a greeting card writer, trying to get over his messy divorce from aspiring novelist Catherine, played by Rooney Mara. While upgrading his computer’s operating system to a new-and-improved O.S. named Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, Theodore gets more than he bargained for when he starts to fall in love with his computer.
Theodore is lonely, so finding companionship with anything is admirable. Samantha is curious and bright, so taking the plunge into the unknown feels right. However, Her loses traction because its themes and narrative are all too surface level to care.
It’s a beautiful film that features great performances from its all-star cast, but the movie is just so superficial and disconnected that I feel Her is just getting by on its brilliant photography and unorthodox romance premise. Jonze never presents a clear point-of-view and everything just seems muddled. That being said, the film is still worth watching for its futuristic art design and magnificent, sweeping city vistas.
There are certainly better science fiction movies about the power of love and humanity’s perception of artificial intelligence, namely 2001: A Space Odyssey, Steven Spielberg’s underrated A.I. Artificial Intelligence, and the Japanese anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion. Spike Jonze brings a stylized, hipster aesthetic to Her that feels sincere, but never goes any further than that. There’s simply no there, there.
While the performances in Her are something of note, Scarlett Johansson will not be eligible for a Golden Globe nomination. The Golden Globe committee dismisses Johansson’s performance in Spike Jonze’s latest because she’s only doing voice work and doesn’t actually appear in the film, but then again smart people and cinephiles have been dismissing the Golden Globes for years now. It’s interesting to note that Scarlett Johansson was not the original actor for the role of Samantha — that honor would go to Samantha Morton, with whom Joaquin Phoenix actually interacted while filming Her. For some reason or another, Spike Jonze replaced Morton’s performance with Johansson’s in post-production.
Spike Jonze’s latest film also stars Amy Adams, Olivia Wilde, Portia Doubleday, Sam Jaeger, Luka Jones, Katherine Boecher, and Chris Pratt. Canadian indie rock band Arcade Fire composed music specifically for the film, while the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs’ Karen O contributed additional original music.
Her will hit theaters everywhere on December 18.