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David Poland

By David Poland

First Blush Review: Her (spoiler-free)


Spike Jonze always ends up at Love.

I’m not saying that any of the film journeys Jonze has taken us on are anything less than iconoclastic. I’m just saying that in the end, whether it’s a journey through a celebrity’s head or twin screenwriters & orchid thieves or literal monsters on an island with a young boy or a man who falls in love with an artificial intelligence, the trip always leads to a re-opening of the emotional door to simple, normal, human love.

In Being John Malkovich, Jonze’s first feature in collaboration with Charlie Kaufman, those around the central character find true love while the lead is left desperate and still grasping for it in the end. But by the end of Adaptation, our lead is finally connecting with love. Where The Wild Things Are adapts Sendak into the tale of a child dealing with the rage that his parent’s divorce thrusts upon him and closes with Max finally at peace with his parents.

And now, Her, in which Jonze finishes the work he started with the 2010 short, I’m Here, exploring the vast new emotional landscape of cyber-life… and still finding the string back to intimate love.

I don’t want to do any spoiling of the film for those reading this. But the key idea that I found to be driving the film from beginning to end of the film is not what cool, new electronic gadget has the potential to interact with humans, but that when all is said and done, there is no escaping what we think of as human nature… whether you are man, woman, beast, or machine.

As for the particulars of the movie, Joaquin Phoenix gives an epic performance that should put him in the discussion with many of the year’s best performances. I don’t know how things worked on the set of this film, but working against a voice alone much of the time, he allows the camera the same intimacy he allows the voice. And it’s a gentle, untricky turn. Scarlett Johansson is really the second lead and she does it just right. Amy Adams is the kind, sweet, real woman who stands as a good example of what men should want in the Jonze universe. And for me, the sweet surprise of the film was Olivia Wilde, who with this brief performance and her turn in Rush, has shown herself ready to deliver a lot more than a pretty face as an actor… she’s showing range and vulnerability and the thing great actors have when they don’t appear to be acting, just being. Rooney Mara is lovely, though mostly an object for the lead (and audience, at times) to obsess on, though the one thing that stuck in my craw a little throughout the film was the idea that she and Mr. Phoenix’s character had grown up together, in spite of a decade age difference. Maybe that was intentional and adds subtext, but I didn’t get it this time through. Jonze’s imagined cityscape, created with production designer K.K. Barrett and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema is a perfect balance of the incredibly familiar and the not-so-familiar-at-all. It’s just futuristic enough not to be futurist… just to feel like what’s next.

Yes, the movie does speak to the cyber-culture and the many ways in which we have disconnected from one another. But with Jonze, as ever, that is just the ground on which the love story takes place. And the message, which I am thinking is the message in all of his work, is that love, first and last, no matter how wild the journey to get to it, is what feeds the human (or non-human) heart.

Dude makes a funky valentine.

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5 Responses to “First Blush Review: Her (spoiler-free)”

  1. Keil S. says:

    I was already extremely eager for this one, but the initial reviews have me even more excited. This and Inside Llewyn Davis are probably my top 2 anticipated films of the next few months.

  2. movieman says:

    for me, the sweet surprise of the film was Olivia Wilde, who with this brief performance and her turn in Rush, has shown herself ready to deliver a lot more than a pretty face as an actor… she’s showing range and vulnerability and the thing great actors have when they don’t appear to be acting, just being.

    I’m guessing you missed “Drinking Buddies,” Dave?
    Wilde is sensational in that, too.

  3. David Poland says:

    I did, movieman. But someone pointed it out to me today – she produced, too? – and I will check it out.

  4. movieman says:

    “Drinking Buddies” was the movie where I first sat up and took notice of Wilde, Dave.
    Anxious to hear what you think.

  5. YancySkancy says:

    Ditto, re Wilde in DRINKING BUDDIES. I’ve always liked her, but she’s especially wonderful in that, playing a real woman and completely belying her supposed “ice queen” image (which I never thought was entirely fair).

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