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Klavan On The Culture

Why Her Is Bad

January 22nd, 2014 - 5:45 am

One of the reasons I don’t write many reviews in mainstream venues anymore is that I don’t like panning things. Books are hard to write, movies are hard to make. It’s easy, and often amusing, to sneer at the failures but I know the process of creation well and hurling slings and arrows at another man’s heart and soul is not as much fun as it looks. It especially bugs me when people attack an artist’s work because they don’t like his politics or off-screen antics. Jim Carrey may be a screaming idiot when it comes to the subject of guns but he’s made some very good movies and there aren’t many people who can say the same.

But a reviewer’s first responsibility isn’t to the artist, it’s to the audience, the folks who are going to spend their good money on the product. If you’re not willing to pan something, you shouldn’t agree to review it in the first place. So I turn down a lot of review assignments on the off-chance I’ll have to slaughter a colleague in the name of honesty. And even in a blog, more often than not I pass over the movies and books I don’t like in silence.

Her, however, has been nominated for an Academy Award so I feel compelled to at least say this: no freaking way. I understand the idea that some smaller movies that aren’t necessarily popular with the mainstream crowd might still be deserving of award attention. But Her is not one of those movies. It’s bad. Its plot — a guy falls in love with the artificial intelligence of a new computer operating system — is an already played-out and unoriginal version of Pygmalion. (See everything from 2001: A Space Odyssey to 2002′s Simone). Its characters are collections of ideas rather than actual personalities — even the wonderful Amy Adams has to struggle to make her cliched nothing of a part come to life. And, most importantly, its central performance is just brutally dull.

It’s not that Joaquin Phoenix is a bad actor. He’s a terrific actor. He’s just not an actor who connects emotionally with the audience very much. And when a movie revolves around endless close-ups of its star murmuring monotonal sweet nothings into a microphone, the guy has got to connect. Scarlett Johansson — who plays the operating system — pulls it off and she’s not even physically onscreen. But audience connection is not in Phoenix’s repertoire. I’m not even sure he cares about it.

For comparison, take a look at Oblivion. Not a great film, but entertaining. And in its first half hour, Tom Cruise basically delivers a master class on what it means to carry a movie. There’s a guy who knows how to make an audience identify with and like his character. It’s not an accident he’s a star.

Without that sort of skill from its lead actor, a film like Her is just a charmless display of intellection. Which is all right for critics, I guess, if they’re not very good critics. But for humans? Pass.

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All Comments   (10)
All Comments   (10)
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I disagree about Her. Oblivion is a bad film and Cruise is a one note actor who rarely tries to be anything else, as he did in The Color of Money.

Phoenix delivers a disciplined and compassionate performance and I didn't detect Adams struggling to do anything other than give yet another lively performance where she doesn't sleep walk ala Cruise-control for one second.

Though Her does indeed touch on an SF theme as old as E.M. Forster's The Machine Stops from over a hundred years ago, it is not the theme you suggest, but one of the dangers of forgetting there are doorknobs in any room we are in with technology that has an interactive quality to it that is a complete illusion. That has nothing to do with Pygmalion nor does this film.

Her is a fine SF film in the sense that SF can bring us places mainstream narratives cannot, by showing us unlikely intersections in ways that shift perspectives but that still remind us of what it means to be human.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Yeah I haven't seen it, but gather this is pretty high concept [which is NOT the same thing as "new"!] for Hollywood, it's not Pygmalion it's an inverse Pygmalion. However it is hard to watch a movie where the lead is cold, intentionally or otherwise, so I guess you watch (!) for Scarlett Johansson's voice! And yes Tom Cruise is one hell of a good actor, whatever goofiness he gets into off screen.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
For comparison, take a look at Oblivion. Not a great film, but entertaining. And in its first half hour, Tom Cruise basically delivers a master class on what it means to carry a movie. There’s a guy who knows how to make an audience identify with and like his character. It’s not an accident he’s a star.

I know a lot of people didn't like War of the Worlds, but I really enjoyed it. I like escapist sci-fi/fantasy/horror, even if it is dreck. And one of the strengths of that movie, in my mind, is that Cruise is in pretty much every scene. It is as much about his journey (as much as it is) to growing the hell up, as it is about nasty Martians who want to suck your blood and terraform (marsaform?) the planet.

And I think he pulled it off masterfully. He and Spielberg had some amazing chemistry throughout the movie, because that was clearly a directorial decision.

So, yeah. Cruise may be a nut job in his own way, but he's a strong enough actor to carry an entire movie on his shoulders, if necessary.

/ot
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Creep factor OVERLOAD!!!
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Joaquin Phoenix was ROBBED when he was not nominated for his role as Johnny Cash in "Walk The Line" while Reese Witherspoon took home the Oscar for her portrayal of June Carter!! I wasn't planning on seeing this movie anyway, but thanks for re-affirming why. We humans generally like to see movies about other humans, animals, or animated characters when the characters are well conceived & acted, apparently this is not the case with "Her". I do find it intriguing that you gave high marks to the "voice only" acting of Ms. Johansson....might worth a look when it's at Redbox.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Can't I just watch an episode of Big Bang Theory [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OliVkzBLey4] and save the fifteen bucks?
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Maybe the movie just wasn't for you Klavan. I thought it was a pretty novel idea centered around the current disconnect people have with each other in the internet/smart phone age. The whole point of the movie is taking the modern trends and extrapolating into the near future. Joaquin Phoenix might very well deserve an Oscar for his role because he was SUPPOSED to be pathetic. He pulled it off masterfully.

I would also claim that the whole idea of a disconnected human society like envisioned in Her is far from played out. The subject has been touched, but citing 1968's 2001 Space Odyssey is kind of funny since it came out 45 years ago. There may have been a few people born between 1968 and 2014 that that movie doesn't really connect with.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
This was my take on Her as well. The movie is much more about the artificiality within human relationships.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
At SomeECards there is card that says: I don't need to go to the movies to see a man fall in love with his phone." I think that supports your point.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
This just gave me an idea. I will buy the first smartphone (for my Hubby) that allows ME to supply "the voice"....maybe I can get his undivided attention then...Ladies, what do you think? ;)
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
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