All the hype about Scarlett Johansson is totally justified. Spike Jonze has given us a not-really-that-original-in-concept, post-modern love story that genuinely made me laugh out loud a few times, and smile a couple more, but nonetheless had a depressing undercurrent throughout as a commentary/satire on our current society and the route that it is heading towards.
The script is one of the more original ones this year and is a clear frontrunner for winning the Best Original Screenplay (although I have yet to watch Nebraska). It posits a question: what will happen if the technology that we interact with everyday, interacts back with us? It seems like an idea that Isaac Asmiov would have toyed with, but here we get Jonze's take.
The biggest challenge here will be how to keep the audience engaged when essentially this movie about one man talking to himself? And here was how Jonze scored a coup de grace by casting Johansson as the voice of the AI and Joaquin Phoenix as the lonely man. Johansson's smokey, raspy voice may be the best voice-acting since ever. She made the OS seemed so real. The passion, the self-doubt, the warmth, the curiosity...it's no wonder Phoenix's character would fall in love with her. But then again, his character just so happened to be in the right emotional spot for such an occurrence to occur.
However, on a deeper level, it could also be seen as a chauvinistic movie with the females being more aggressive and the reason why man (?Man) built AIs in the first place. *spoilers* Olivia Wilde's character scares off Phoenix because she does not want to waste her time; the ?receptionist in Phoenix's office is a man who is dating a seemingly more powerful female lawyer; Amy Adam as Phoenix's friend gets left alone because her husband could not control her, and she designs games about being the stereotypical "Perfect Mom"; even Phoenix's ex-wife as played by Rooney Mara is shown to be a rather passive-aggressive manipulative bitch that seemed to be responsible for the divorce.*end spoilers*. It could also be turned around and say that it was a pro-feminist movie with women being superior or better than man.
Phoenix was a good match for the role. He inhabited the loneliness of his character and as he begins to fall in love, we see him come out of the shell that he had hidden himself in. But we always get the sense that he never really stepped fully out. Jonze needed a believable lead actor for whom the audience can relate to, and with that moustache Phoenix was not as easily recognisable and so more relatable. He always looked so alone and apart from everybody even when he was in the same room. His clothes by Opening Ceremony definitely made him stood out, although he kept wearing the same, distinctive pieces again and again, and it got rather annoying for continuity purposes. Unless Jonze is trying to make a statement out of it. That moustache really does age him like how it aged Watson on Sherlock.
Jonze directing was simple in its subtle complexity. The mixing of up locations: California and Shanghai to give us a sense of interconnectivity. Perhaps in the future we could really go from east-to-west through a tube. The stylised palettes to reflect the mood of his lead protagonist. Bright and sunny when he's in love, dark and grey when he's not. The gorgeous futuristic sets also deserve a praise (and an Oscar nomination), as does the hauntingly beautiful song "The Moon Song" (also a Best Original Song nominee) as sung by Johansson in the movie, and Karen O. over the end credits.
A smart, witty script that was brought alive by two actors, and explored an interesting concept that raises many questions, through a simple boy-meet-girl love story for the post-modern times.