Her Movie Review 0 83


Spike Jonze, the director of such brilliant films as Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, returns with a beautiful, creative and incredibly relevant film about the nature of human connection in a world where everyone seems more interested in their phone screens than talking to one another.

Shifting things into the near future, we follow Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a loner in a world of loners who works at a company that writes personalised letters for people. One day he decides to try out “the world’s first artificially intelligent Operating System,” which introduces herself to him as Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). He then sparks up a relationship with the OS that’s specifically designed to meet his every need.

Where many films try and fail to get at the heart of the effect technology has on people and how it has brought us closer together in some ways while pulling us apart in others, Her absolutely nails it. Beautifully shot with this kind of free-spirited gracefulness that makes it easy to invest in and even easier to enjoy, it’s an often funny and very moving film that’s as much as much a dissection of how modern technology virtually controls our life as it is a look at complex relationships, however unconventional they may be.

Joaquin Phoenix is utterly terrific in the lead role here, giving a remarkably soulful, subtle and heartfelt performance of a man who spends his working life giving others comfort in the form of bespoke personal letters and only finds meaning when his computer starts to seem more real than the real life people with whom he comes into contact. That includes his soon-to-be-ex-wife (Rooney Mara) who, in comparison, seems antiquated in both her attitude towards this new technology and to their relationship in the modern (or rather, future) world.


There are also great supporting performances from the likes of Amy Adams as Theodore’s friend and fellow user of the new OS technology; the aforementioned Mara in a small but crucial role as his wife; and even Johansson who, although we only ever hear her voice, is a genius piece of casting. We hang on her every word as the relationship between the two of them grows, him changing her just as much as the other way around. For all its near-future world examinations, at its heart it’s a good old-fashioned love story.

The film is sci-fi in the same way as, say, Another Earth or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is sci-fi. There are no aliens or giant spaceships. It’s real world and utterly believable because the film never treats those elements as anything more than what they are; just merely a part of this world that’s not too dissimilar to our own. When Theodore shyly admits to dating a computer, it’s met with an intrigued “Really? What’s that like?” And this is just one of the many subtle ways the film comments on our own time; we’re right along with that reaction, rather than exclaiming disgust as we may have just a few years ago. This is a world and time within arm’s reach of us rather than being completely alien.

It’s also believable because the central relationship is taken seriously. Not that there aren’t laughs along the way – there are moments here that are genuinely laugh-out-loud funny – but it treats it with respect, never feeling the need to fall into maudlin sentimentality and, crucially, never makes it seem in any way creepy. There are ups and downs, secrets and lies, just like any other relationship and after a while you sort of forget you’re watching one that’s half made up of a computerised system, something that’s a testament to both Jonze’s brilliantly written script and the performances of Phoenix and Johansson.

Set to an affecting and effective score by Arcade Fire that couldn’t be anymore fitting for the material, Her is an emotionally engaging, wonderfully acted and especially moving film that cleverly taps into what it means to connect in the technology-driven modern era. I’m fully convinced it will be looked back on as one of the key films of our time, not just because of how simultaneously relevant and prescient it feels but because how it melds that with a truly poignant and heartbreaking love story.

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I’m a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features.

I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 353

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 380

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10