The New York Film Festival screened Spike Jonze’s Her — his first solo writing feature — on its closing night, Oct. 12. Jonze, along with cast members Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, and Olivia Wilde, arrived on the red carpet at Alice Tully Hall to celebrate the film’s world premiere.
The movie centers on Phoenix’s Theodore Twombly, a lonely, big-hearted man who falls in love with his Siri-like operating system “Samantha” (smokily voiced by Scarlett Johansson) while coping with his recent divorce. Set in a futuristic version of Los Angeles, Theodore works as a ghost writer for BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com, dictating heartfelt missives from loved ones who can’t string the words together themselves. Sensitive and reclusive, he finds fulfillment through his complicated relationship with “Samantha.”
For director Jonze, the premiere was a special homecoming. “The New York Film Festival means a lot to me,” Jonze said before the screening. “This is where I got to premiere my first film, Being John Malkovich.” Accompanied by his family and most of his cast — except Johansson, who “is in the ether with us as she is in the movie,” he said — Jonze presented his highly anticipated film to a full house.
Though Phoenix showed up to the premiere with Jonze, the elusive actor didn’t stop for comments on the red carpet, instead racing inside early. But Mara, who plays a pivotal, albeit small, role as Theodore’s ex-wife, gamely talked about her part and how Theodore’s lengthy, but failed relationship with her character drives his need. “You see our relationship unfold,” Mara told EW. “We’ve been together many, many years, and you see all the stages of it.”
In fact, Jonze was reluctant to cast Mara as Theodore’s heartbreak because she seemed too young for Phoenix. “Joaquin is older than me, but he feels kind of young, he has a young spirit,” Mara said. “When I read the script, it was just so powerful, I loved it so much, so even though Spike thought I was too young, I went after it and convinced him to hire me.”
Kent Jones, the festival’s director of programming, echoed Mara while introducing Her: “[Spike] made a film that, when we saw it, we instantly fell in love with,” he said. Jones added that the selection committee wanted the film to close the festival because it mixed lighthearted humor with deeply haunting themes of human emotion, loneliness, and melancholy.
And with the diverse subject matter covered in Her, Mara said, it’s tough to pinpoint just one lesson from Theodore’s relationships.
“There’s so many thought-provoking ideas, and I don’t think there’s one thing to take away from it,” the actress said, shaking her head. “Every day while shooting it, I would drive home and have a million things running through my head about relationships, about everything; I think that’s kind of what happens when you see the film as well.”
Her opens in select theaters Dec. 18 and nationwide Jan. 10, 2014.