New York Film Fest: Spike Jonze's 'Her' Closes 51st Edition on an Eccentric Note

The futuristic love story, which stars Joaquin Phoenix and the voice of Scarlett Johansson, may be the most out-there Oscar hopeful since "Lars and the Real Girl."
Joaquin Phoenix

NEW YORK – Her, a futuristic and highly unconventional love story that was written and directed by Spike Jonze, had its world premiere on Saturday night as the closing-night gala screening of the 51st New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall.

The film, which will be released by Warner Bros. on Dec. 18, stars Joaquin Phoenix as a man who rebounds from a divorce (from Rooney Mara) by dating his advanced operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). It was introduced by Jonze -- who brought out Phoenix and costars Amy Adams, Mara and Olivia Wilde, but, appropriately enough, not Johansson (who is in production on another film in London). And when it ended, it was greeted with a lengthy ovation that audibly increased when the spotlight was shone on the talent in a box above the rest of the audience. As the spotlight faded out, Jonze (a best director Oscar nominee 14 years ago for Being John Malkovich) could be seen hugging Phoenix (a best actor Oscar nominee last year for The Master); both men clearly invested a lot of heart and soul into the project.


At the film's afterparty, held at the trendy bar at The Top of the Standard, guests -- including Paul Dano and Edward Norton, as well as Wilde's fiance, SNL alum Jason Sudeikis -- chatted about the thought-provoking concept at the center of the film. In the theater, there had been snickers at some aspects of the story, which asks audiences to believe that an operating system might one day be developed that can not only converse with its user but also love and be loved by him (sort of the 2.0 version of 2001: A Space Odyssey's HAL). But there was also a sense that perhaps such a way of life is not that far into the future, since one can't walk down a New York City block today without feeling like everyone else's head is buried in a phone. Already we live in a world in which we are more technologically connected with each other than ever before, but also less comfortable having real-world interactions than we have been in a long time. Perhaps the logical next step is for some to take their relationships with their smartphones to the next level?

In terms of awards, I imagine that this film will meet a fate somewhat similar to that of another recent out-there love story that depended upon a strange screenplay and a brave and sensitive lead performance: Craig Gillespie's Lars and the Real Girl (2007), in which a man falls in love with a blow-up doll that he bought online. That film was more appreciated by critics than it ever was by the public or awards voters, but, at the end of the day, it did snag a best original screenplay Oscar nom for Nancy Oliver and BFCA, Golden Globe and SAG Award noms for best actor Ryan Gosling -- although recognition for this one may be slightly harder to come by since many Academy members are older and relatively technologically challenged, which will make the premise seem even weirder to them, and because this year's best actor field is as competitive as it has ever been.

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg