It’s taken me a long time to get round to seeing this film, which I had been looking forward to. Sadly, it was ultimately a disappointing experience, all whimsy, melancholy and flimsy romanticism. It promises more than it delivers.
Spike Jonze has an impressive CV including Being John Malkovichand Adaptation, but crucially these were both built around scripts by Charlie Kaufman. Her is written by Jonze himself. It posits a world set not too far in the future, where Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is conspicuously failing to get over the break up of his relationship with wife Catherine (Rooney Mara). He writes letters for other people for a living, and lives alone in a high rise flat. His only friends seem to be a couple called Charles and Amy. Amy (Amy Adams) might as well have a sign over her head saying ‘she’s the right one for you, Theodore’, and when Charles, clearly an A Grade knobhead, leaves Amy, the path to happiness is clear.
However Theodore is in love with Samantha, played by Scarlett Johansson, a choice you might be less understanding of when I tell you that Samantha is an operating system with an adaptive personalty. So, yes she has the breathy intimate voice of Scarlett, but no physical manifestation whatsoever. She exists mainly in his ear (where he sticks the plug via which he can hear her) and his phone, which is, in effect, her portal to the outside world. Now it doesn’t take an IQ of 345 to grasp that Theodore prefers dealing with an abstract of a woman rather than the real thing, and that this is The Point that Jonze is making. My concern is that in the 2 hour running time, it is the only point he is making – and at great length.
I can think of at least two other recent films about men having relationships with women who don’t actually exist – Lars and the Real Girl and Ruby Sparks. Both of them are better than this movie, because they have a lighter touch, and a sense of humour. Herhas the occasional laugh, but is more prone to a vague mood of sadness and regret. And Theodore is such a wet blanket of a bloke that not only do you feel that Rooney Mara is better off without him (and how come they are supposed to have been through college together when Phoenix is 10 years older than Mara?), but that any woman would be better off without him. The letters he writes which we are supposed to think are totally amazing, are shallow and cliched. And as for his moustache, give me a razor, someone.
I realise that being disappointed (that’s me, not Theodore) is not necessarily a fair way to judge a film, but Jonze has made such cracking films in the past, with real edge and purpose, that it is hard to sit through Her without feeling that scriptwriting may not be his forte. And yes, I do know it was Oscar-nominated, but that is hardly a ringing endorsement of its genius. Theodore’s inability to relate to real flesh and blood women is not – in and of itself – a world-shattering revelation. It’s what you do with that idea that makes – or fails to make – the idea interesting. In Ruby Sparks (written by the woman who plays Ruby), we see how the attempt to make someone into what you think is your perfect partner is doomed. In Lars, we see that actually the process of loving is enough in itself. And in both cases, there is an actual physical presence. Samantha may have Scarlett’s voice, but that’s all she has got, and therefore the film can seem like long conversations between Theodore and himself. Not an enticing proposition.
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