She Blinded Me With Science

Gravity is amassing all kinds of good news lately. A Golden Globe for directing. Film festival honors up the wazoo. Oscar nominations. My favorite movie of 2013. And now it can add one more accolade to the pile: Lucky son of a bitch.

I'm still working my way through the Best Picture nominees before I fill out a ballot for the Academy Awards, and finally snagged a ticket to Spike Jonze's latest whimsy, Her. What does this have to do with Gravity, you ask? Only that if I had managed to see Her in 2013, we might have had a very different discussion about favorites of the year. Her not only would have given Gravity a serious run for its money, but probably would have beaten it. I adored this movie.

Let's start with the story, which is deceptively simple. It's the near future, and operating systems have gotten advanced enough to the point that they're functioning artificial intelligence. Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a lonely, recently-separated man who makes a living writing lovely emotional letters for people who can't articulate their feelings. When he updates his phone and computer with the new OS, the personality it constructs for itself (Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson) soon beguiles him, and they fall in love. Naturally, this is a very complicated relationship, and the remainder of the plot really just centers on Theodore and Samantha's efforts to define and protect their love.

If it had just been that, it'd be a nifty story, but not the amazing film it turned out to be. What really makes Her spectacular is the world Jonze builds around the citizens in this futuristic Los Angeles. It is note-perfect. Technology has made leaps and bounds, but not to the point that anything is unrealistic. As with any era, there is an inexplicably popular fashion trend. But to these characters, interactive video games and high-waisted pants are just an everyday fact of life, not something to remark upon. Everything is futuristic, but the world still feels lived-in and real. It's incredibly easy to picture this world as the actual status quo in a few decades, and striking that balance perfectly must have been difficult.

Thematically, the movie also seamlessly dives deep into the relationships we have with our technology. Samantha is illustrative, but it certainly doesn't take a computer with a personality to make someone inextricably linked with their toys. Just count the number of people checking their phones at restaurants these days. Theodore's inability to connect with other people, and the ease with which he falls in love with a "woman" who understands him is telling. Of course she understands him; she was explicitly designed to do so. The acting is solid from top to bottom. I've never been a huge Joaquin Phoenix fan, but he is outstanding in this role. Scarlett Johansson is never seen on-screen, and still manages to fill out a poignant, relatable character. Chris Pratt and Amy Adams are always a treat, and do not disappoint in their supporting roles.

I'm sitting here trying to think of things to nitpick, just so that there's some balance to my review, but I'm not coming up with anything. This is a (mostly) quiet, thoughtful movie, and as such, it may not bring home the Oscar gold it deserves, but there is one elusive award it's already nailed down: The highest grade I can give.

Her: A+


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