Film Review – Her
High concept plate-spinner Spike Jonze is at it again. A man falls in love with his computer? Comedy gold! As a tagline, sure, that’ll turn some heads, but the premise he’s tinkering with in Her may not be as far-fetched as it initially seems.
Joaquin Phoenix stars as Theodore, a sweet if lovelorn writer in a deep depression after having separated from his wife (Rooney Mara). Set in an unusually realistic near-future vision of Los Angeles, Theodore makes his living crafting personalized greeting cards for those too lazy to do it themselves. Impulsively, he purchases an operating system tailored to help him organize his life who just happens to be voiced by Scarlett Johansson. Let’s call her “Samantha.”
Samantha soon becomes an essential part of Theodore’s life. In addition to serving as a virtual rolodex/alarm clock, she gets him. She laughs at his jokes. She offers advice. She becomes his sounding board and sole confidant. And eventually his lover.
How does this work, you may wonder? Jonze fortunately has the steady confidence to avoid underselling the emotional build or go for cheap laughs. The exchanges between Theodore and Samantha are as organic as they come and the scene in which they “come together” is downright startling in its honesty. A connection is a connection, despite the unorthodox nature from which it bears.
Having only taken in one trailer prior to its release, I worried Her might brink on farcical. A series of unfortunate events in which Theodore hides his seemingly strange relationship from friends and family. I needn’t have worried. Offering a refreshing approach, Jonze paints a world in which “OS” (operating system) relationships are not uncommon. Former lover and still best friend Amy (Amy Adams) proves especially sympathetic as she too develops a bond with hers. A brief but telling aside informs us Theodore and Amy attempted to make a go of it in their college years but were too immature to see it through.
As Samantha becomes more and more intuitive, consuming everything she possibly can regarding human behavior, she develops. Perhaps faster than Theodore is prepared for. Or the audience for that matter.
Phoenix, no surprise, turns in stellar work here. A complete 180 from the hatred-filled Freddy Quell in The Master, he plays Theodore more nuanced than nebbish. A genuinely decent man with a hole in his heart. His love for Samantha is painfully real and, for his sake, we hope hers is too. Johansson seamlessly fleshes out a character who has no flesh. If she’s neglected an Oscar nod based on a technicality, the board needs to re-consider its rules. Add to that a non-flashy but utterly unforgettable performance from Amy Adams and you’re left with one of the best films of the year.
Her will make you smile before you even realize how hard it’s making you think.