CRITIQUED: HER

There are few actors today that can make you feel like no one truly knows them by the roles they inhabit. There isn’t a particular mannerism or quirk that makes them iconic or unique, they just do the work they’re hired to do and deliver top-rate performances. They seem transformed on-screen, poised to embody the true meaning of “actor” and are willing to go to great lengths to bring authenticity and credibility to everything they put their name on. The late Phillip Seymour Hoffman was one of those actors, as well as Gary Oldman and Frances McDormand. And for someone who doesn’t seem entirely comfortable embracing his celebrity, Joaquin Phoenix never ceases to amaze us with the sheer genius of his work. Watching Her reminds us why we can’t help but love him as a leading man, character actor and everything in between.

 

He was gloriously uncomfortable to watch in Gladiator as the antagonist Commodus to Russell Crowe’s Maximus, he channeled the spirit of Johnny Cash in Walk the Line, and took a tacit and powerful turn in The Master by a less-is-more fashion that needed to be seen to be believed. With Her, Phoenix plays coy and quirky with a genuine and endearing flavor that, again, forces you to believe that not just anyone, but he, specifically, can legitimately fall in love with an artificially intelligent “woman” with every fiber of his being. He’s on a journey of self-discovery and seems desperate enough in his life to entertain the idea of a virtual companion in a way that isn’t sleazy or overtly sexual, but rather heartfelt and charming.

 

Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore in Her. Courtesy Huffington Post

 

Speaking of the AI supporting actress, we at hapless geek contend that if we had any kind of say in nominating for an Academy Award, a voice could be in the conversation this year. That voice, brought to us by the ultra-talented Scarlett Johansson, did just as much to make the viewer believe in the humanity of Samantha, a computerized bits-and-bytes entity that served as the “personalized companion” to flawed human Theodore, than Phoenix’s actual on-screen portrayal did. They cultivated a beautiful love affair that doesn’t seem so far-fetched in the fast-accelerating world of technology, and made us think about how easy it could be to lose one’s self to that fantasy.

 

A lot of these performances couldn’t be supplied with the proper intent without a strong and provocative script, and that was provided by the film’s director Spike Jonze. This type of script shouldn’t be a surprise to fans of Jonze, who was responsible for or contributed to films like Adaptaion. and Being John Malkovich. With Her, however, Jonze also forces a commentary on how difficult and potentially dangerous our reliance on technology can be, how emotional a connection it can create and how crippling the loss of that connection can be as well. It’s a struggle with self-consciousness with Her, and how submitting to carnal desires can be achieved in both traditional and non-traditional ways. The conceptual nuggets are aplenty in this film and Jonze—with the able help of Phoenix, Johansson and an equally impressive Amy Adams to boot—crafts them in the most beautiful of ways.

 

Joaquin Phoenix in Her. Courtesy zekefilm.org

Her is nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Original Score and Best Original Screenplay. It is scheduled to release on Blu-ray and DVD later this year.

UPDATE: Spike Jonze won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay this year, much to our delight. Check out the 2014 Oscar Wrap-Up here and see who else made Oscar night a memorable one.

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