After watching both “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation”, I was left with a feeling of awe for Spike Jonze’s flair for the meta. He dabbles in such ingenious ideas and that too with remarkable compactness and adherence to internal logic. The films rank high in my lists of brilliant original screenplays and cerebrally engaging cinema. “Her”, the director’s latest feature, perches itself comfortably alongside his previous works and in many departments, manages to outshine them. I have to mention, before delving any deeper, that “Her” , to me, is one of the best films of 2013.
The film is set in the future (year unmentioned). The treatment of this particular premise is the film’s first selling point. It paints a very understated and un-HG Wells-esque picture of life in the future. No flying cars, audaciously unnecessary props ,frippery CGI and all such gimmicks that have come to become Sci-fi staples. The film paints a wonderfully detailed picture of life in it’s time and setting whilst also being healthily nondescript. This is no mere feat and warrants commending in plenty. It makes you very aware of the fact that it’s a different time with very subtle and understated touches: like the lead character (along with many others) preferring (futuristic) sweatpants with plaids rather than jeans or khakis even for work, Video games featuring more interactivity and taxis that give out all but silent purrs. Never do these become anything more than mere props/tools. It successfully manages to wedge itself between the territories of drama and (black,understated) comedy. You don’t feel like you are watching the work of an overgrown kid playing around with CGI that his producers got him; It’s the work of an auteur through and through. It is a film that takes itself seriously, expects you to as well and has the credentials to warrant that and more.
Hollywood abounds in films that find their roots in extremely original and clever ideas but make a mess of the execution; Many a film has left me lingering with a feeling of “what-could-have-been”. This is not one of those. Indeed the crux of the film’s plot, which is that of a man falling in love with an AI was sold as such and upfront. What it does with this idea and how it probes into the many tangents that the subject matter offers is remarkable and , for me, what makes it a great film. This is a film that manages to strikes the right balance on a multitude of factors. It’s paced languidly and it invests ample time in developing it’s characters to warrant emotions on the viewer’s part but it seldom ceases to engage (both superficially and viscerally); It offers chuckles and smiles on tap and also a few laugh out loud moments. It is also never quite completely dystopian or utopian (notwithstanding the fact that this film is likely to leave one incredibly melancholic). It just presents a society, much like any modern one, without imposing on the viewer a prism to view things through .
The visual finesse of the movie is par excellence. With it’s constantly ambling movements, the camera makes it’s presence felt but never quite for it’s own sake. The mood that the film creates, owing in no small part to the background score and colour palette, is addictive and stays with you long after the credits roll.
The casting is spot-on. Joaquin Phoenix delivers a career best performance and Scarlett Johansson delivers an uncharacteristically well emoted performance (though only in voice). Rooney Mara stands out although she only appears in one scene and a few montage clips
Her is a bittersweet tale of love and urban angst which is easy on the eye and unabashedly piercing. A must watch.