Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Her (James Absolon)

Her is a very much a Spike Jonze film, an exercise in flitting between genres as our protagonist tries, fails and succeeds to connect with the incomprehensible world around him. The director has done this well before with Being John Malkovich, Adaptation or the sadly misjudged and underrated Where the Wild Things Are. His new film is no different as it introduces us to the world of AI relationships with ethereal girls, a clever little sci-fi concept that boils down to that most critically disdained genre, the Rom-Com.
The inevitable questions asked of any romantic comedy are: 1) Is it funny, and 2) Do I really care about the characters? To which I am glad to say the answer is demonstrably yes. Humour is found in the strangest of places, from surreal futuristic video games, vows of silence, and of course the inner workings of the central relationship. That plays out in a way that is not only relatable and deeply intimate, but, despite all genre concerns, believable. Testament to this is its now Academy Award winning screenplay which, along with Jonze’s unobtrusive direction, keeps the science fiction to a minimum and is above all honest, forcing us to take matters seriously as we follow them on their journey. As a result, the oddity and weirdness soon simply fade away.

Yet this is no simple Spike Jonzeathon, and any film of this type requires a believable central relationship and characters. Thankfully the casting is perfect; Joaquin Phoenix gives a tender, intimate and personal performance that is neither showy nor attempts to elevate above what he is a human being, while Scarlet Johansson is perfect as the strange ethereal pixie dream girl whose affection he so desperately aspires and requires.  

The film though is not all plain sailing, and towards the halfway point it begins to slow and stall as they move on from their joyous meeting. The jokes simply do not quite tally up as much, and there is one scene that feels particularly uncomfortable. This muddling of which path to take is partly a result of the fact that, unlike most films, its course is not east to predict, and partly because of the unfortunate bi-product of uncomfortable tonal shifts. Even more important, perhaps, is what started out so fresh and original begins to lose its punch as the film progresses, and it becomes a little stodgy and slow and might have benefited from a tighter editing.

The result, therefore, is a film that is a little strange and baggy at times, and perhaps a tad unrefined, but somehow even this almost seems to make the whole thing feel more honest and truthful. As genre pictures go this is certainly an unusual one, a remarkable, deeply beautiful, funny piece that is flawed at times. Yet in its strange, unique, unblinking loom at human connectivity and loneliness, Her is above all something even grander. It is joyous.  

James Absolon 

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