“Her” Casting Review


 Her is arguably the quirkiest and most original story amongst all the films this award season. From the creative mind of Spike Jonze – the director that brought you Where the Wild Things Are and Being John Malkovich, Her is a different kind of love story, and touches upon themes that speak all too clearly to today’s society. Although the film’s cast has plenty of star power, the heart of the story revolves around the two main leads: “Theodore Twombly” and “Samantha”, played by Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson respectively. Although both actors have proven their acting mettle time and time again, their performances in Her are especially noteworthy due to the fact that their characters’ interactions are a bit unconventional, to say the least.

Phoenix’s Theodore is a kind, sensitive, and introverted man who spends his days writing poetic verse for a futuristic greeting card company. Theodore is a damaged puppy, and right away you can tell that he is lonely and in pain–a direct result of his failed marriage. To help stave off his despair, he makes fleeting attempts at being social and putting himself out there, but it all seems just too much for him. He has a hard time asking the few friends he has to hang out with him, and often resorts to having phone sex with strangers as a way of human interaction. Because Theodore has such difficulty with meaningful interactions, he becomes especially susceptible to the charms of his new computer operating system shortly after installing it.

Johansson then lends her sultry voice as Samantha the operating system, and Theodore becomes quickly beguiled by this new technological wonder. Having a warm and comforting voice to talk to whenever you want is an appealing situation no matter what your emotional state–which is why, to no one’s surprise, Theodore falls in love with Samantha. From Samantha’s perspective, although her voice is that of a mature, adult woman, she still has the curiosity and naïve wonder of a newborn child. Every conversation, every experience she has with Theodore is intoxicating to her, and she is unable to satiate her appetite for more. Although Johansson has shown her acting skills in many a film, her role in Her continues to highlight her abilities as an actress. The fact that her entire role is voiceover, yet she still has to act out nuanced and emotional moments in the story means that Johansson’s entire performance hinges on the evocative abilities of her voice. She has to do double duty here since she can’t rely on her facial expressions or physicality to convey her feelings–everything has to be done through her voice, and her voice alone. Johansson doesn’t disappoint in Her, and its just fun to see (so to speak) her have fun with this uniquely offbeat role. Phoenix is no slouch himself and continues to show that when it comes to playing layered and offbeat characters, he’s the best of the best.

Although Theodore and Samantha’s relationship is the crux of the film, it’s crucial to also look at the story’s other characters, specifically, the other humans in this piece. Continuing her award season hot streak, Amy Adams has a cute supporting role in Her, and plays “Amy”, Theodore’s neighbor and arguably his only true (human) friend in the story. Adams’ role in this film is much more subtle than her knockout performance in American Hustle (check out our review of the film’s casting choices here), but the true test of an actor is being able to do a lot with a character, regardless of the role’s size in the narrative. Adams does this here, and creates a quirky and vulnerable portrayal of a lonely woman who we discover has a lot more in common with Theodore than he himself realizes. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s Rooney Mara is the third woman in Theodore’s life, and plays “Catherine”, his ex-wife, and the main reason why he is so emotionally messed up at the beginning of the story. It’s always great to see Mara on screen as you never really know what kind of character she’ll play–she’s like an acting chameleon, in the best sorts of ways. On the topic of chameleon-like actors, Matt Letscher (who can currently be seen on TV’s Scandal and The Carrie Diaries), plays “Charles”, Amy’s boyfriend who ultimately breaks up with her. Letscher can constantly be seen playing a variety of roles on both the big and small screen, and always does solid work regardless of the type of role or project he’s working on.

Finally, actors Chris Pratt, Olivia Wilde, Kristen Wiig, and Bill Hader all have fun supporting and cameo-esque appearances in Her. Pratt plays Theodore’s co-worker “Paul”, and idolizes his verbal prose and work ethic. In other words, he kind of has a man-crush on Theodore, and it’s cute and endearing. Olivia Wilde plays an emotional train wreck that goes out on a date with Theodore, which is fun as it shows a funny, lighter side to her. SNL duo Wiig and Hader, although not physically in the movie, lend their distinctive voices here with hilarious results. Most notably, Wiig, plays an anonymous caller that has phone sex with Theodore (her role is credited as “Sexy Kitten”) and easily has some of the most laugh-out-loud dialogue in the entire film. Pratt, Wilde, Wiig, and Hader are all venerable leading men and women in their own right, which is why it’s so amusing (and incredible) to see them do so much with roles that don’t necessarily have a lot of written material.

One of the many reasons why it’s so fun to watch critically acclaimed films is that they always manage to draw a diverse and top tier group of actors together. This is especially the case in films like Her–independent features with limited budgets. Top-tier talent usually comes at a hefty price tag, which is why a film like Her is a true testament to Spike Jonze and his creative vision. Actresses like Amy Adams and Kristen Wiig who typically get paid hefty salaries for their feature film work don’t take on smaller supporting roles in films like Her for the paycheck–they do it because they genuinely love the material and the artistic process. This passion for the material definitely shows in the actors’ work, and Her deserves special praise and attention for bringing together a fun and talented group of actors to tell a uniquely different kind of love story.

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