11 minutes ago
Thursday, 20 February 2014
Spike Jonze (he who gave us the dazzling 'Being John Malkovich') comes up with this superficially whimsical tale set in a near-future world, where the fashion is for high waists and where everyone walks around speaking into their invisible contraptions in a way which would have been considered as looking demented until fairly recently. It centres on an unassuming, recently split-up, professional letter-writer (for those who are too busy or unwilling to write for themselves) who goes in for a new computer system with interactive voice and independent super-intelligence and functionality. Having at the outset opted to have a female voice speaking to him he gradually finds himself being attracted by its personality, playful conversation and scarily realistic emotional range, as well as being drawn in by its/her curiosity about his own romantic situation (or lack of) and her eagerness to help him in this direction. It's not long before he realises that he's falling in love with this disembodied artificial voice, provided by Scarlett Johansson.
Incidentally, I hear that as the film was being shot the voice being used was that of the marvellous Samantha Morton, who was actually present on set, though off-camera, of course. So Joaquin Phoenix (in as down-played a role as he's ever done), looking near-unrecognisable, 'tached-up' and bespectacled, was actually reacting to Morton's promptings. For some reason, later on in production, Morton's voice was replaced with Johannson's. Although the words are undoubtedly the same I'm sure there must have been some variations in intonations. Changing the stress of one single word can alter the entire meaning of a sentence. However, I didn't myself notice any glaring mismatches between the two sides of the conversations, though I do regret S.M. being jettisoned, for whatever reason.
There are a few comedic touches, though not as many as one would have thought, despite the set-up lending itself to that potential. For me the film's fatal flaw was its easy descent into sentimental mush. The film had a good basic idea but took the route of accenting the romance going on between Phoenix and the voice - as well as that between him and others (I'm saying nothing more!) - and it becomes a romantic-comedy without laughs, or not that many. Added to which, it's a full two hours plus! Strewth! A crisp 80 minutes, playing on the zanier possibilities of the tale, would have been so much more effective and memorable. But instead it aims to get you reaching for the hankies.
Joaquin Phoenix is perfection itself. I didn't know that he was capable of playing in the modest style that this role calls for. Just as good is Amy Adams as his faithful, understanding friend. Rooney Mara as his soon-to-be ex-wife also impresses.
It's not the film I would like to have seen. In defiance of some reviews I've read I do think that Jonze has miscalculated, but maybe that was only in pleasing me. Perhaps he really did achieve the film for which he was aiming. Anyway, despite my disappointment, in recognition of very high-quality acting all round, I'm going to be generous and award this film a......................5/10.