Arts and Entertainment | Film

Without being seen, Johansson gains acclaim in new Spike Jonze film

  • not-so-lonely heart | The new film “Her” stars Joaquin Phoenix as a man who falls in love with a computer operating system voiced by Scarlett Johansson.

With her latest performance in Spike Jonze’s “Her” garnering Oscar buzz, Scarlett Johansson may become the first best supporting actress nominee to never appear on-screen.

Jonze’s fourth feature film stars Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore, a lonely, recently divorced writer who finds himself in an intimate relationship with Samantha, a hyperintelligent computer operating system voiced by Johansson.

In keeping with his body of work, Jonze sets the film in an alternate universe of his own invention—an oddly idyllic, near-future Los Angeles.

“I think the initial idea was … sort of playing off the fact that our world is getting nicer and nicer to live in, but even so you can feel very isolated and lonely,” Jonze said at a press conference on Oct. 12. with the film’s cast at the New York Film Festival.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Love me | Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore in “Her,” the fourth film from Spike Jonze, who directed “Being John Malkovich” and “Where the Wild Things Are.”

It was this concept that appealed to Amy Adams, who plays Theodore’s closest friend and neighbor.

“Every time I met with Spike, I couldn’t say no because his vision was so beautiful,” Adams said.

After meeting with the architects who designed Lincoln Center and the High Line to talk about executing his vision, Jonze decided on a utopian future for his film instead of a dystopian one.

“To feel lonely in that setting is even worse because it’s a world where you should be getting everything,” Jonze said.

After a failed blind date with a woman played by Olivia Wilde, Theodore’s loneliness reaches its peak. It’s at this point that he buys and falls in love with Samantha, the operating system who is essentially a far smarter and more complex Siri.

Consequently, Phoenix was tasked with building the chemistry of a relationship while alone on-screen.

“I trained really hard, but I’m an actor, so I’m accustomed to walking around my house and kind of talking to myself,” Phoenix said. “To be honest, going into the movie, all I was concerned about was trying to feel natural.”

And, remarkably, a very easy and natural chemistry is apparent between Theodore and Samantha, though Johansson never appears on-screen.

“I liked the idea of her existing … in the ether and in his heart and psyche,” Jonze said.

Though it is certainly an unconventional love story, it is an unexpectedly believable one as Johansson’s expressive voice lends itself to creating a very likeable character.

“Artificial intelligence carries no baggage,” Wilde said. “There’s something about Samantha that’s so pure, which makes her even more ideal romantically. She’s so open-minded and only sees the best.”

Samantha’s lack of a body only adds to her mysteriousness.  

“Even if people may be familiar with Scarlett’s voice and then imagine her as an actress, I think it transforms, and I think she becomes whatever you want her to become,” Rooney Mara, who plays Theodore’s ex-wife, said.

Viewers, then, have a personal interaction with the film, and though they at first seem foreign, Theodore’s struggles become strangely relatable.

“That’s the great thing about this film,” Adams said. “Everyone finds a piece of their own issues.”

“Her” is playing at AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13, 1998 Broadway, between 67th and 68th streets.

carroll.gelderman@columbiaspectator.com@carrollgelder

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