Joaquin Phoenix Has a Manic Pixie Dream Robot in the Trailer for Her

Slate's Culture Blog
Aug. 7 2013 1:56 PM

Trailer Critic: Spike Jonze’s Her

Joaquin Phoenix in Her
Joaquin Phoenix in Her

Still from the trailer

Filmmaker Spike Jonze has only directed three feature films, but each one has been its own unique trip. First, he made the mind benders Being John Malkovich and Adaptation with screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, and in 2009 he made Where the Wild Things Are, with co-screenwriter Dave Eggers. Now, for the first time, he will be direct his own original screenplay, for Her, starring Joaquin Phoenix. The trailer just went online today, and it looks like just the kind of weird, melancholy vision we’ve come to expect from Jonze.

The basic conceit—boy meets robot—isn’t entirely new, and has been seen to varying extents in movies like Robot & Frank, Lars and the Real Girl (albeit with a mannequin), and even Weird Science. As in at least a couple of those films, the “boy,” played by Phoenix, is also quite lonely (having lost his wife), and Joaquin Phoenix seems to be back in the mumbly, hunched-over mode he employed in The Master. Here to save him from his funk is a sort of manic pixie dream robot, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, who slowly draws Phoenix back into intimacy and socializing.

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But is it really intimacy and socializing if it’s with a computer program? This seems to be the driving question. Overall the movie looks like a journey deep into the uncanny valley, one that might be willing to go even deeper than those movies I mentioned above. (I’m thinking in particular of the apparent cyber-sex scene.) Jonze has mined that valley to great effect before, most notably in his great, award-winning “Lamp” spot for Ikea.

Despite its premise, the whole thing looks sadly human, especially in a time when more and more of our social lives is conducted through iPhones that look just like Scarlett Johansson’s Samantha. (There will be some human relationships, too: The great actresses Amy Adams and Rooney Mara—who both seem to be on a roll lately—star in supporting roles.) If the movie is half as simultaneously funny and moving and creepy as this trailer (the use of Aphex Twin’s haunting “Avril 14th,” recently sampled in Kanye West’s “Blame Game,” doesn’t hurt), then I can’t wait to see Jonze go four for four.

Previously from the Trailer Critic
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
12 Years a Slave
Spike Lee’s Oldboy
Anchorman 2
The Wolf of Wall Street
Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity
Ender’s Game
Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium
The Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer. 

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