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Spike Jonze astounds audiences with visual, aural masterpiece ‘Her’

Posted on December 10, 2013 | by Benjamin Marques

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To put it simply, “Her” is the best film of the year. Spike Jonze’s not-so-futuristic tale of the love between a lonely man and his computer’s operating system is one of the most genuine and authentic romances ever made.

Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore Twombly, a writer at a company specializing in composing poetic, hand-written notes for all occasions. His divorce weighs heavily on his heart, and he struggles to connect with others in a seemingly utopian society. Then he meets an operating system named Samantha, voiced with impeccable sincerity by Scarlett Johansson, and proceeds to fall in love with her.

Every development in the story hits the right note. Working from his first entirely original screenplay, Jonze breaks free of his past work as a conduit for Charlie Kaufman. Their collaborations on “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation” were wildly successful and noteworthy, but something always felt missing. With “Her,” a notion of cohesion and individual artistic expression signals the solidification of Jonze as a titan in cinema, and not just in the realms of skate and music videos.

After appearing in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” last year, Phoenix and Amy Adams again display unbelievable nuance and authenticity that is uncommon in science fiction. As Theodore’s friend from college, Adams plays a mutually respectful and understanding confidante for the fragile protagonist. Both display a refreshing versatility, reminding audiences of their standing as two of the most valuable actors working today.

The performances are outstanding from beginning to end, regardless of screen time — Olivia Wilde shines as an eccentric date, Chris Pratt is grounded as the goofy boss and Rooney Mara is devastating as Theodore’s bitter ex-wife. And then, there is Johansson, who has a voice that is easy to love. She commands attention scene after scene with the nuanced inflections of her voice.

Samantha Morton was originally cast as Samantha and was on set throughout production in an isolated sound booth as well as working with Phoenix throughout the shoot. While editing, Jonze decided the performance was not what he had envisioned and decided Johansson would be better suited to the role. Morton still receives credit as a producer, but Jonze certainly made the right decision to switch actresses.

In certain respects, “Her” is also one of the scariest films ever made. Sitting in a theater and watching this film is a marvel, and it feels as though everyone is trying to laugh off the notion something like this could happen to him or herself. “Her” feels all too familiar, which is both terrifying and heartbreaking.

The entire film is a technical and visual marvel. The subtlety and detail behind the production design, art direction and costuming is delightful, and Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography is crisp and funky. With humor and heart at every turn, it is safe to say nothing more satisfying than “Her” has been released this year.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Dec. 10 print edition. Ben Marques is a contributing writer. Email him at film@nyunews.com.

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Felipe De La Hoz

Multimedia Editor | Felipe De La Hoz is a Colombian national studying journalism at the College of Arts and Sciences. Having been born in Colombia and raised in the United States, Mexico and Brazil, Felipe is a trilingual travel aficionado and enjoys working in varied and difficult environments. Apart from his photography, Felipe enjoys investigative reporting and interviews, interviewing the likes of Colombian ex-M-19 guerrilla fighters and controversial politician Jimmy McMillan. He has covered everything from governmental conferences to full-blown riots, as well as portraiture shoots and dining photography. Having worked under Brazilian photojournalists for Reuters and AFP, Felipe hopes to one day work on demanding journalistic projects and contribute to the global news cycle.

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Ann Schmidt

News Editor | Ann is a liberal studies sophomore who lived in Florence during her freshman year. She plans on double-majoring in journalism and political science and is always busy. She is constantly making lists and she loves to laugh.

 

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Daniel Yeom

Daniel started at the Features desk of WSN last Spring, writing restaurant reviews whilst indulging on free food and consequently getting fat. Last Fall, he was the dining editor, and he this semester he is senior editor. Daniel is in Gallatin (living the dream) studying Food & Travel Narratives, incorporating aspects of Food Studies, Journalism, and Media, Culture, and Communication. He loves food more than life itself.

Hannah Luu

Deputy Multimedia Editor | Hannah Luu is a ridiculously great Deputy Multimedia Editor. She is a sophomore from Northern California. If you think Northern California means San Francisco you might need to closely examine a map. She is passionate about NPR and being half Asian.

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