Spike Jonze relied on trusted pals as he wrote his first solo screenplay for the new film “Her,” which he also directed.
“I'm so lucky. I'm very dependent on my friends to read my stuff,” says the acclaimed filmmaker, whose extraordinary projects include music videos, shorts and the features “Being John Malkovich,” “Adaptation” and “Where the Wild Things Are.”
Among those who helped him with “Her,” which opens Christmas Day, are screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, artist Miranda July, filmmaker Bennett Miller (who directed him in a small role in “Moneyball”) and Dave Eggers, co-writer of “Where the Wild Things Are.”
Jonze says he learned a lot working with Eggers: “Dave was really good about saying, 'Let's move on. We're going to come back to it. We're not going to film it like that.'” He, on the other hand, would get anxious if they weren't sure exactly how a scene should look or were uncertain about some dialogue: “I would spend five hours banging my head against the wall,” he says.
“Her,” which takes place in the near future, is about a professional letter writer (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with his computer operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Avoiding slapstick or plot twists, it simply explores themes of emotional connection. It's also clever and open-hearted.
Perhaps its “real” feeling is due to the fact that Jonze, who describes himself as an undisciplined writer who “can't do a lot of things at once,” had to set time to stay focused on the project, which ultimately took three years to complete.
When he finished, he sent it to Phoenix. “I kept thinking about him, but I didn't know if he'd be right. I hadn't seen him play that kind of joyfulness or playfulness,” he says. But he knew his instinct was correct after spending just a few minutes with the actor.
From there, Jonze concentrated on creating the movie's unique world. He says, “We were trying to make our future, what we want to look at and what we want to touch _ the sets, colors, costumes, the software and the interfaces, whatever felt right. It was fun to think about.”
Mostly, Jonze sees his film as hopeful. “Don't you think that every year, or at least every decade, we become more open minded and more tolerant to other ways of being?” he asks. “I'd like to think so. It's in millimeters, but it's the right direction.”
IF YOU GO
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara
Written and directed by Spike Jonze
Running time 2 hours